County approves broadband budget
[Originally published by Bedford Gazette, January 12, 2022]
The Bedford County commissioners approved a $2.3 million outline of broadband improvements for 2022 as part of ongoing efforts to improve high-speed internet access in underserved areas of the county.
The commissioners approved the broadband investment budget during their meeting Tuesday. The spending plan outlines much of the previously discussed work in partnership with Alleghenies Broadband Inc. (ABI) and Crowsnest Broadband of Woodbury.
Funding sources for the plan includes a combination of grant awards, bond money and American Rescue Plan funds.
“Bedford County is proud to announce a continued commitment to enhancing broadband infrastructure in our rural communities,” Commissioner Deb Baughman said in a news release. “We’ve worked closely with ABI on the development of this plan, and we’re excited to partner with Crowsnest Broadband to help make our vision a reality.”
The county and ABI last year developed a three-phased plan to provide a framework to the expansion of broadband infrastructure in the county.
Phase I included the installation of fixed wireless equipment on existing telecommunication towers. Crowsnest Broadband of Woodbury has finished installing the equipment on 11 towers, and the remaining 10 are expected to be completed by this spring.
The county contributed $944,000 to the project, with $524,000 of it allocated in 2021.
Phase II involves the construction of new towers to deliver fixed wireless service to unserved and underserved areas that currently lack infrastructure for the equipment.
The county last year was awarded a $745,000 grand from the Appalachian Regional Commission to build four new towers in the southwestern portion of the county. The grant requires a 50% county match.
The second phase is expected to provide service to a thousand households and 45 businesses that currently lack reliable broadband service.
The county has also worked with ABI to submit a grant application through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Infrastructure Program for a proposed project to construct 10 new towers in the county.
If awarded, the county would contribute $558,000 toward the more than $5 million effort, which would provide more than 2,000 households and businesses with broadband coverage.
Those grants are expected to be announced early this year.
Phase III focuses on the expansion of fiber-optic technology in the region. As part of the budget approved on Tuesday, Bedford County committed $50,000 toward a regional fiber-optic network design that will provide a framework to construction a fiber network in the six-county region. That design is set to begin in February and is expected to be completed this year.
“We’re looking forward to getting started on the regional fiber design work, and we appreciate the support from Bedford County,” said Brandon Carson, executive director for ABI. “The county has a sound plan in place to address the connectivity issues that exist, and we’re committed to partnering with the commissioners to implement that plan.”
The budget also includes $203,000 for contingencies for supply chain issues, inflation and other potential increases in costs.