With contracts signed, county talks next steps on broadband

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: October 22, 2019 | 1:45 p.m. 

County plans series of November information meetings on project

DINWIDDIE – A month after both Dinwiddie and Amelia County signed agreements that have truly set in motion efforts to bring broadband internet service to the homes and businesses of likely thousands between the two communities, local leaders say community engagement is the next pivotal step in the process.

According to Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill, the county is preparing to host a series of community meetings where residents can learn more about the ongoing efforts to expand internet service in the county, which have ramped up in pace over the last 12-18 months, culminating in September’s landmark contract signing with internet service provider RiverStreet Networks out of North Carolina.

The first meetings are set for Nov. 6, with a 10 a.m. morning session hosted inside the county boardroom at the Dinwiddie County Government Center and a later evening session at Dinwiddie High School that same day from 6 to 8 p.m.. Another pair of meetings is planned for later in the month on November 14, held at the Ragsdale Community Center in McKenney from 10 a.m. to noon and Midway Elementary School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Massengill explained the morning and evening sessions will also for as many people to be able to come out and learn more about the project on their own schedule, particularly those who may work during the day and would likely be unable to attend a late morning meeting with efforts planned to get the word out about the sessions well ahead of the events.

“This is the opportunity to come listen, ask questions of the company, and specifically, sign up right then and there for the service,” he said. “They are going to start populating that data and that is going to help them design the network that they will be using some of the winter months to do the design. There will be presentations made to the board in the December through February time frame, with implementation starting immediately after that.”

The design and implementation phases are the next steps in what has been an active project since 2018 when, as part of a joint application submission, Dinwiddie and Amelia were both selected to receive a $1.7 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to help support local and statewide efforts to expand broadband services to underserved and unserved portions of the Commonwealth, largely comprised of rural sections of the state, and help provide with the development and construction of “last mile connections.” which are those connections that go out from the broadband infrastructure, like a free-standing tower or underground fiber, to the end user, a residential or business consumer.

Over the course of the last two years, the county had partnered with StraightUpNet, an Amelia County internet service provider but, the project was re-advertised and both governing bodies agreed to work with RiverStreet Networks this year, a company that has been providing fiber-to-the-home internet services since 2006 and recently was the recipients of over $30 million in Federal Communications Commission funding to help bring over 13,000 locations online over the next several years as part of an unrelated federal broadband initiative. RiverStreet was one of only two entities in the state to be selected as part of the FCC’s summertime funding distribution, with Prince George Electric Cooperative being the other.

RiverStreet Networks will use a fixed wireless system that utilizes current and existing towers around both counties to deliver services to customers with the goal of transitioning to broadband fiber to the home, which county officials see as “the gold standard” of service delivery.

In terms of cost, while the company’s initial proposal to Dinwiddie County in June, as seen in the request for proposal documents on the county’s website, saw RiverStreet Networks propose a price of $35 per month for residential services at speeds of 25 megabits per second, Massengill explained the company did later clarify during their discussions over the summer that the price was actually $45 per month for residential customers.

In addition, those families with students who receive free and reduced lunch would be offered a reduced rate of $35.75, according to county officials. Dinwiddie representatives noted standard installation will be free along with the rental of equipment and RiverStreet would be willing to finance nontraditional installations for customers.

According to Massengill, the upcoming community input sessions will play an important role in the rollout of this new internet service in Dinwiddie County.

“We will have some input in this but if you are signing up and saying you are willing, that is going to help the design and implementation,” he said, adding they are also looking for ways to garner feedback from those who may not be able to make it to the series of sessions planned.

“We hope to establish another form of public involvement where, if you can’t come, we don’t want people to feel left out so, if we can create an internet site that is accessible on a mobile device, you can go and sign up if you don’t want to come to the meeting but you want to express your desire to be served,” Massengill continued. “We are trying to do a multifaceted approach of trying to get to people about these meetings.”

To review the proposal of RiverStreet Networks and all of the documents related to the broadband expansion project, visit the county’s website at https://.dinwiddieva.us/1243/PPEA-Projects.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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