A large firefly is on the RISE in the region.
Last week, Firefly Fiber Broadband President and CEO Gary Wood gave updates on his company’s Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) project.
The $288 million project, created by Firefly Fiber Broadband in conjunction with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (RISE) and Dominion Energy, aims to deliver fiber-optic broadband service to more than 35,000 Virginians in the region who lack access to reliable service.
Firefly, which is a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), is working with REC to make the project possible. REC will own the fiber optic system installed on its poles with Firefly providing the actual service. Madison and Greene counties are two of the 13 included in the project which spans five planning districts.
In December, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), which covers five of the 13 counties, applied for and received $79 million in Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant funding for the project. The counties will contribute approximately $33.5 million collectively.
In Madison, the project will cover the eastern and southern portions of the county—Brightwood, Oak Park, Locust Dale, Radiant and Rochelle to name a few. In Greene, the project covers mainly the northern and western parts of the county including Dyke. A small portion of Greene is also covered through Firefly, but is not part of the RISE project. It’s also possible that additional areas may be added into the project in both counties. Some portions of each county were previously covered via an FCC grant to other companies including CenturyLink and Fiberlight. However, the same areas were added into the RISE VATI grant application, forcing the two companies to either enter into agreements with the counties to build out their systems within three years—half the time required by the federal grant regulations—or give up the areas and funding allowing them to be taken over by Firefly. Wood said those agreements have to be signed before Firefly signs its VATI contract, something that will occur by the end of this month or the very beginning of next.
Adding those areas back into the project means a higher local contribution for each county--$2.6 million versus $2.1 million in Madison—but also a larger VATI award overall--$84.8 million compared to $79 million. There’s also a possibility of adding in additional areas not currently covered by an FCC grant or the RISE project. Wood said a second round of VATI grants is opening up and unlike the first round, unserved areas are now defined as those receiving less than 100 mbps download and 20 mbps upload speeds. Previously the threshold was much lower at 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload. Also, areas that were covered via a state or federal grant in the past are now eligible—another change from the first round of grants.
“Basically, that’s cable internet,” Wood said. He noted that Shentel had previously received a grant to provide speeds of 50 mbps download and 5 mbps upload in the northern area of Madison County including Syria, Etlan and Banco. However, he said Shentel has announced they’ve returned grant funding for some areas and will discontinue service in Buckingham County in July. No announcement has been made for Madison.
“I encourage you to apply [for the second round of funding],” Wood said to Madison County Supervisors. “Put out requests for proposals to seek partners.”
Wood said Firefly would likely be interested. Similarly, he said there may be a few areas in Greene County served by DSL that would be eligible. Those wishing to apply for the funding must submit a letter of intent by July 7. Madison County Supervisors said they would be submitting a letter.
Meanwhile, the RISE project is making progress. Wood said Greene County customers served by CVEC will be connected by the fall with fiber being constructed in the Whitehall Substation which crosses into Dyke. REC is also doing make-ready preparations in the Stanardsville Substation area which covers a lot of the western end of Greene County. That work touches into a little piece of Madison County. Wood said make-ready work will be done in parallel areas throughout the entire project area. He said to assume six months from the start of construction until the first in-home connections.
During each step of the project, homeowners will be notified as to which company will be on-site near their homes and what is being done. He said the project has several steps that must be completed before the final connection is made including data collection, design, make-ready engineering and construction, fiber construction, splicing and service extensions to home. Wood said at the splicing phase, marketing materials would be mailed to homeowners explaining how to sign-up for service.
The company offers 100 mbps upload and download speeds at $49.99 per month and 1 gbps upload and download speeds at $79.99 per month. There’s also an option to add phone service at $29.99 which includes a $5 discount for the internet services.
To read this article on Greene County Record, please visit: https://dailyprogress.com/community/greenenews/news/connection-projection-rural-broadband-effort-progressing-across-region/article_21fecf08-e1c9-11ec-99ce-ef02d10e9edb.html