When will more Prince Edward, Cumberland residents get broadband?

Published 11:29 am Friday, August 19, 2022

FARMVILLE – When will we see improvement with broadband internet? That’s one of the most asked questions the Herald gets on a regular basis. After meetings for the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors and the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) over the last week, the answer is: work will be starting soon. 

Now to be clear, this won’t be a quick process. Officials made that clear at multiple meetings within the last week. In fact, it will take several years to complete. 

“It’s about a 4, 4 ½ year project,” County Administrator Doug Stanley said at the Aug. 9 Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors meeting. 

As for when we’ll start seeing construction? 

“Kinex will be contracting with some other companies to help install,” Stanley said. “We’ll see some activity this year.” 

What does this broadband plan cover? 

The plan’s goal is to bring broadband internet to underserved areas in Prince Edward, Cumberland and Lunenberg counties. When the COVID-19 lockdown started in 2020, it became apparent how important internet connectivity has become and how there are still residents without the ability to do so. 

In June, the CRC received a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). This grant will fund Kinex Telecom, a local internet provider, to expand broadband connections throughout parts of the three counties. 

It’s part of a larger project across the Commonwealth. Since 2018, Virginia has invested more than $846 million to connect more than 429,000 Virginia homes, businesses and community anchors to broadband service. The goal here is to make Virginia one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024.

But to make that happen, there’s still work to be done. Earlier this year, Virginia allocated more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities, which will close 90% of the digital divide. The funding — from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — will support 35 projects, connecting more than 278,000 households, businesses and community anchor institutions to high-speed internet, and leverages more than $1 billion in private and local investments, pushing the total broadband investment in Virginia above $2 billion over the past four years.

The money to bring broadband to all parts of Cumberland, Lunenberg and Prince Edward counties is part of that. 

What’s the current status? 

The project will have Kinex install the broadband fiber in Cumberland County starting at the Cumberland Courthouse Village area and south to Farmville and in all of Prince Edward County and parts of Lunenburg County. Parts of Lunenburg County will be served by a separate service provider. 

According to the CRC, The VATI grant will also supplement other sources of funding obtained by Kinex to complete this project. Kinex has also bid out some of the work covered by this grant to install fiber in Lunenburg County. 

Kinex has already started working on laying down broadband fibers in parts of Cumberland County. Once the fibers are in and ready to go, residents will be contacted by Kinex if they are interested in getting connected. 

According to Todd Fortune, deputy director of CRC, the council first applied for the VATI grant towards the end of last year. After pre-contract work, the grant was approved in June. The VATI grant is a three-year grant expiring in June 2025. According to Fortune, there is a possibility for an extension but only time will tell if the project will need it. 

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Stanley told Prince Edward supervisors that progress reports on their part of the project will soon be coming on a regular basis. 

“We will start having monthly calls,” Stanley said. “Over the next few months, [the Board will]  be getting [its] first updates.”