Halifax County is doing what it can to salvage portions of a broadband project that has been challenged by CenturyLink.
Halifax County Board of Supervisors were made aware of the challenge when they met Monday evening.
In January, EMPOWER Broadband, in conjunction with Halifax County, was awarded a $710,514 grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI).
The grant was to fund four projects: Omega to Aarons Creek, Lower Liberty Road, Cody to Bull Creek and Liberty to Highway 57.
These areas encompass parts of Bill Tuck Highway, Lower Liberty, Aaron’s Creek, Hitesburg Church, Stage Coach, Bull Creek, Meadville, Leda, Chatham and Asbury Church.
But CenturyLink is challenging the Chestnut Road and Virgilina portions of the project.
A letter to country administrator Scott Simpson from Tamarah Holmes, director of office of broadband with the Department of Housing and Community Development, says Century Link has submitted a challenge to the grant application saying “there is more than 10% overlap of existing service at speeds of 25Mbps download/3 Mbps upload or above in the project area.”
The letter also states that the challenge says that part of the project has been awarded Connect America Funds (CAF).
County administrator Scott Simpson submitted a response to the challenge noting the lack of broadband access in the project area and “lack of advance knowledge of the challenger’s purported upgrades to their system in the Chestnut area, not its guaranteed completion.”
Simpson’s response goes on to say the CAF II award is five years old, and is “for a total number of passing through the Commonwealth, with virtually all of Halifax County fitting the criteria of eligible areas.
“To date, CenturyLink has never disclosed to Halifax County that they are planning any activity in our county until the response to this application,” his response further states.
He also noted that a lack of transparency and collaborations by providers has resulted in the county and partners “expending resources to plan broadband expansion countywide, only to be challenged by an incomplete solution.”
His response also states even if CenturyLink completes their project that there will still not be 25Mbps download/3 Mbps upload service provided to a majority of the residents in the Chestnut area.
However, the Department of Housing and Community Development upheld the challenge as valid saying CenturyLink has received state or federal funding for planned broadband services.
But, Halifax County’s VATI application for the Chestnut Road and Virgilina areas remains under consideration.
Simpson told supervisors that there are individuals specifically on Chestnut Road that he is aware of that are “very interested in needing internet speed that are a lot better than what they have.”
Even after CenturyLink completes their project, the county administrator said there are still some gaps in the service area.
“We’re looking into how we can still fill those gaps and work towards salvaging a good part of our application for this grant,” Simpson added.
ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon chastised companies for trying “to claim territories that prohibit our citizens from county efforts to provide them adequate broadband.”
He continued saying, “These companies that we do day to day business with stand up and contest the application for the grant so that they themselves can maintain territory but yet they fail to provide their customers with 25 down and 3 up which is deemed adequate broadband by federal standards and that has significant impact.”
The ED-6 supervisor said he felt the county residents need to know that supervisors, county staff and companies like EMPOWER Broadband and RiverStreet have a lot of efforts moving forward despite roadblocks.
“It’s horrifying as we all should be working together to help get adequate broadband, and the ones doing the dirty work need to be exposed. But we are trying with every effort. We’re going to go back and continue to fight,” he added.
In other broadband matters, the county administrator also updated supervisors on the construction progress for three broadband towers that Simpson expects to be delivered on Monday.
Since approval of the bids related to the broadband tower construction, fieldwork has begun.
Conditional use permits and building permits have been obtained for the sites.
Concrete has been placed at the foundation on Hunting Creek Road and Clarkton Road, according to Simpson.
They’re currently digging for the site at the North Halifax Volunteer Fire Department, said Simpson, and he anticipates that they could get the concrete into the foundation this week.
Earthwork has begun at Meadville Elementary School site, and Simpson said that foundation would be laid after the one in north Halifax. He also noted that the Virgilina site activities have been completed.
“We have two and a half weeks to stack three towers, which is a pretty doable task. We’re still on tight schedule but still pretty close on schedule to have these towers constructed by the end of the year,” said Simpson.
After they’re erected, he said they can merge communication systems on the towers, and after they get activity on these towers, he said some space can likely go out to cellular carriers.
Supervisors also unanimously agreed to accept the donation of two towers from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation located in Virgilina and at the South Boston Early Learning Center.
Those towers were originally part of a project funded by the Virginia Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission.
The county administrator also noted that here are three more towers being stored at the landfill that MBC plans to donate after their installed in the coming year.
Brandon questioned if the county knew for sure that those towers in storage have all the equipment, and Simpson said, “not specifically.”
He said a crew has been sent out to see what steel is there.