Project would provide broadband internet service to entire county

“We’re talking about universal fiber to the home broadband deployment to 100 percent of the county. One of the most transformational opportunities we’ve had in the county for a long time.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

If everything comes together as planned, a public-private partnership between Pulaski County, Appalachian Power and All Points Broadband will bring broadband internet coverage to all areas of Pulaski County that currently have poor or no internet coverage.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Monday to approve application for a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant to help fund the $52.5 million project.

The grant, if awarded to the county, would provide 49 percent ($25 million) toward the total cost of the project.

All Points would secure 47 percent ($25 million) of the total cost.

Pulaski County would contribute 4 percent ($2.2 million) which it would take from American Rescue Plan Act funding the county will receive from the federal government. Such a project is eligible for ARPA funding.

The project includes some 500 miles of fiber infrastructure to extend to all remaining unserved areas in the county.

Jim Carr, CEO of All Points – which bills itself as the leading internet service provider in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky – laid out details on the plan for the supervisors.

He said the county and All Points have partnered together since mid-2019 to develop and execute a strategy to achieve universal broadband for all unserved locations in the county.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bridge Pulaski’s digital divide,” Carr said.

Blue Ridge Advisory Services Group will identify the unserved locations in the county, and All Points will work with Apco to deliver fiber to each of those locations.

A standard installation fee of $99 would be charged, which would include all customer premises equipment “to make the internet work,” said Carr.

He continued that the first 500 feet of a customer’s service drop is included. He noted that normally, each additional foot in excess of that amount, would be paid for by the customer at a flat per foot charge.

But, he said, if a customer signs up for the new service within the first 12 months, the long drop charges are waved. After that, the additional drop length would be charged at cost plus 10 percent.

Residential service offerings include:

50 x 50: $59.99 (fixed)

100 x 100: $79.99

500 x 500: $99.99

1000 x 1000: $109.99

Carr explained that, for instance, the 50 x 50 basic service would allow a customer to stream 10 high-definition Netflix videos simultaneously with no buffering. He guaranteed the basic rate of $59.99 would be in effect for the life of the project and would only rise based on the rate of the CPI (Consumer Price Index).

The VATI grant application is due to be submitted by Sept. 14. The VATI awards will be announced in December.  All Points will begin purchasing fiber and other long-lead time components as soon as the county’s match commitment is finalized.

Carr said the project would be substantially complete within 18 months from VATI grant award and completion of the Apco routes.

“In this VATI grant cycle, Pulaski is extremely well-positioned. First, we have a very high-quality network design. We have strong partnerships in place. And this is a “whole-of-jurisdiction” solution.

“This project is about getting internet service to people who don’t have it today,” he continued.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet explained the 25/3 level of internet service means 25 Mbps (megabits per second download speed) and 3 Mbps (megabits per second upload speed). And if a customer is below that they are considered underserved and fall into the unserved category.

“If you’re having buffering issues and you’re utilizing service that is not adequate because it’s not considered by definition broadband then perhaps you could be served by the project,” Sweet said.

Sweet noted the project would solve the question of how to bring broadband internet service to the entire county without spending a penny of local taxpayer money.

He said the project would help take Pulaski County to “that next level community that we all desire.”

Supervisor Chairman Joe Guthrie said the project “strikes me as being as transformative to the community as universal electricity was.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot