Caroline County is partnering with Atlantic Broadband to apply for state grants that could eventually bring high-speed internet access to as many as 300 homes if the project is approved.
The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative announced in January by Gov. Ralph Northam will award more than $18.3 million in grants to broadband expansion projects in the state, mainly in rural areas. The grants are expected to connect about 36,000 households across Virginia.
Caroline can submit only one project at a time. That made for a tough decision for the broadband committee since nearly 60 percent of county residents don’t have high-speed internet access. Many are students who need access to the learning tools the internet offers.
Caroline’s proposed first project area is a 15.37-mile stretch that will pass 181 homes on Penola Road, Ladysmith Road and Balty Road to Golansville. The project will cost $768,560. Atlantic Broadband and the county will each contribute $217,200 and VATI will contribute $334,160.
Caroline’s second project proposal is for the U.S. 17 corridor near the Town of Port Royal. The 24-mile stretch, which includes Portabago Bay subdivision, includes 116 homes and will cost $978,891. Atlantic Broadband and the county would each contribute $139,200 and VATI would contribute $698,491.
All homes on each route will have an opportunity to hook up to the fiber-optic connection service from Atlantic Broadband.
Supervisor Floyd Thomas told his colleagues at their meeting Tuesday that if the first project is successful, the county can pursue a second one through VATI next year. But the broadband committee is hoping to use Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding as another option and get both projects started this year.
The CARES Act, which provides federal funds to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows spending for distance learning, telehealth and other social distancing efforts.
“Those should fit either project,” Thomas said. “We are trying to make sure we use those funds wisely and have given priority to first responders. We have yet to determine how much is available.”
Criteria for the grant includes the number of businesses and homes that could be served and total miles covered. “We are also looking at income levels and home values because those are also considered,” Thomas said.
VATI is a state-funded program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The grants will go to localities and broadband companies to provide “last-mile” fiber to unserved communities.
Unserved areas are defined as those with internet speeds at or below 25 megabits per second for downloading and 3 mbps upload. Areas lacking 10 mbps download and 1 mbps upload speeds are given priority in application scoring. In addition, a proposed project area is considered eligible if 10 percent or less have access to service with no additional construction costs from the provider.