Culpeper County is exploring a venture into the federally-funded internet fiber business with the Board of Supervisor’s unanimous approval this week of a $2.3 million grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s brand new Rural E-Connectivity pilot program.
If approved, the new internet infrastructure would initially serve up to 850 homes, farms and/or businesses in the Lignum area of eastern Culpeper County. This area was chosen because it meets the federal grant requirements as it currently is not served with high-speed internet, according to Laura Loveday, a grants administrator with Culpeper County Economic Development.
“It would also serve the Richardsville Volunteer Fire Department, which is in need of internet,” she said.
In deciding how to take advantage of the new grant program, the county employed the Virginia Beach consulting firm Broadband Telecom Services, which recommended the grant amount and area. Company CEO Jeffrey Beekhoo attended Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to speak on the process, saying the grant is intended to serve areas where 100 percent of the households have no access to broadband.
Per the proposal, the county would use the grant money to construct a central office, from where the fiber would originate, on county-owned land next to the Sheriff’s Office and 911 center, located off of State Route 229, he said. From there, 13.05 miles of fiber would be installed, linking to a tower in Lignum.
Beekhoo explained installing the infrastructure would allow the county to serve other areas in the future “relatively cheaply.” The USDA grant requires a 25 percent match, proposed to be covered through a public-private partnership with internet provider, Segra.
The potential funding is part of $600 million Congress approved last year for the USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. The first round of grant applications opened April 23 and are due May 31. The county will learn whether it will get the grant in late 2019.