Culpeper County is pursuing a $1.3 million state grant to install 18 miles of internet fiber along U.S. Route 15 in conjunction with Orange and Madison counties.

The initiative is being called DOT COM—which stands for Delivery of Technology to Culpeper, Orange and Madison. Laura Loveday with the Culpeper County Economic Development Office gave a presentation Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors about the proposed project, which would provide high-speed internet to various schools, businesses and public facilities along the route.

As private internet provider interest in the line developed, the high-speed could eventually serve homes as well. In the meantime, as part of the proposal, a 99-foot-tower and associated equipment would be installed at the Carver Center, boosting wireless residential access in the under-served area.

The proposed “fiber middle mile route” would initiate at Orange Elementary School and end at the Lover’s Lane location of Virginia Broadband, a project partner. The technology initiative would also allow Orange County to utilize 33 miles of fiber it recently installed to each of its public schools and a public safety tower as part of a second phase of its initial $1.8 million project, Loveday said.

The sought-after grant for the DOT COM project, if approved, would come from the 2020 Virginia Telecommunication Initiative of the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development. The statewide pool for the initiative is $19 million, according to Loveday. Applications are due Sept. 3.

If approved, the state grant would cover 80 percent of the project cost, with Orange County chipping in $156,937 toward the local match, and Culpeper County, $104,624.

Culpeper and Orange county officials met in July to determine the highest need regarding broadband in each locality, according to Loveday. It was quickly determined that the region lacks the middle-mile infrastructure needed to fulfill the governor’s pledge to serve all rural Virginians with internet access, she said. Open access fiber routes to which private providers could connect is the most urgent need, and that is what the proposed grant-funded project would construct.

“We’re not looking to serve homeowners along this route right now,” Loveday said, noting wireless access would be expanded in the region. More partners would be needed to build “branches” off of the broadband trunk, she said. “It gives a good opportunity to tie into that future network.”

Besides the Carver Center, the new fiber line would provide high speed to the Locust Dale Post Office, Willow Run Greenhouses, Fairview Cattle and Grain, Tuscany Hall, The Hartland Institute, the Inn at Willow Grove and Dogwood Assisted Living Facility, among others, according to the grant application.

Culpeper County Supervisor Steve Walker supported the grant application, saying he appreciated the regional approach for laying the fiber. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the grant application.

Public comments on the proposal are invited through August 30. They can be submitted in person or by mail to Laura Loveday at 803 S. Main St. in Culpeper; by phone at 540/727-3410 ext. 5 or by email to lloveday@culpepercounty.gov. All comments will be considered and submitted with the grant application.

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