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Program aims for broadband connection

The Virginia Tobacco Commission is working to expand broadband to rural regions in Southside Virginia — an opportunity that may benefit Farmville, Cumberland and Buckingham.

The Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission, according to an Aug. 15 news release, has set aside $10 million for its last mile broadband program, which aims to connect individual homes and businesses to a backbone fiber network that the commission had previously installed.

According to the news release, members of the program — which will provide one-time financial assistance to qualified applicants — will work to fix issues that have stemmed from last mile broadband, regions with the tail end of a broadband connection that typically reaches homes and businesses, and which often experience problems with speed and functionality.

Jordan Butler, a public relations coordinator for the commission, said the disparity in broadband access for urban and rural areas can create difficulties for residents and businesses — particularly relating to education.

“Online learning and supplementing what’s learned in the classroom with online content is becoming the norm and we need to be ready for it,” Butler said. “This program will help more homes, and thus more students, have a reliable internet connection with the necessary speed to utilize these new educational tools.”

Localities that want to expand access in unserved areas are encouraged to apply, according to the release. Preference would be given to localities applying with private-sector partners.

Unserved areas are defined, according to the broadband program guidelines, as having broadband speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and one Mbps upload.

Butler noted the commission had worked with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) in establishing a fiber network that has passed through areas in the Heart of Virginia.

The network, according to an interactive map on the MBC site, passes through the Town of Farmville, Cumberland County, the Town of Dillwyn, the Town of Keysville and the Town of Kenbridge.

Butler said broadband network installations in the area have allowed for the region to attract businesses — citing a Microsoft data center in Mecklenburg — increase IT employment opportunities and expand access to healthcare via telemedicine among others.

Qualified applicants could receive a grant that could provide “up to 50 percent of the costs to design, construct, equip and put into service broadband infrastructure that serves residential and commercial subscribers in Tobacco Region project areas that are designated as unserved,” the release cites.

Applicants must submit a detailed and itemized construction budget and an itemized equipment list. Other required documents include an operating budget that includes how a project would be sustained beyond a startup period; a marketing plan; a cash flow analysis; a rate structure; construction documents; preliminary engineering reports or designs; any real estate acquisition that might accompany the project; letters of support from project partners and a list ranking projects by priority if there are multiple or multi-faceted proposals and applicants must complete the program by the commission’s standard three-year period, according to program guidelines.

Proposals must be submitted to the commission’s online application portal by Nov. 15. According to program guidelines, the commission may make its final funding decisions by early January.

To learn more about the program, visit www.revitalizeva.org.