Consultant working to develop a phased countywide broadband plan

The Botetourt County Broadband Commission got to meet Sandie Terry over the phone Friday morning when the newly hired consultant gave the members a picture of how the county might move forward in establishing broadband Internet service across the county.

County officials and commission members have been inundated with inquiries about broadband service ever since the county’s Broadband Summit in late September.

“Since the summit, we’ve had meeting after meeting after meeting,” commission chair and Board of Supervisors member Mac Scothorn said. “It propelled us forward two years.”

He said the commission needed someone to filter and assimilate the information that has evolved from the summit so the county hired Terry, who has two decades of experience with broadband, including service in rural areas.

Terry’s presentation, “Botetourt Broadband Planning,” outlined the course she is following to provide the commission and Board of Supervisors with a geographically phased plan that prioritizes by demand (residential, business, medical and county) where the county should begin its efforts in establishing or upgrading broadband service.

That will include identifying areas where the commission and supervisors will need to build public awareness and promote efforts to adopt the plan.

She told the commission the process she’s using includes identifying the unmet demand in the county— where and how much there is for residential, businesses, county facilities and medical.

The process will estimate the “take rate” that’s based on Pew Research Institute’s Spring 2017 report that calculates adoption based on age, household income and education (how many people in an area will sign up for broadband service).

She will be prioritizing and grouping geographic areas into phases based on the demand. This will allow the county to pursue and support multiple solutions and funding for various areas of the county.

The process will also help the county choose options for meeting the demand, such as a municipal build and/or potential partners, whether they are current providers or new providers.

Her report will recommend what the phased areas will be and possible solutions within the areas, generally with a funding option for an area to establish broadband in a particular area.

She said her data will facilitate finding the right partners, developing detailed designs and obtaining necessary funding, and options the county can consider for meeting the demand for broadband.

After presenting her plan, which she expects to complete before the Christmas holidays, the commission and county will have to decide which recommended options to pursue; what partners, solutions and funding to pursue; development of an RFP to identify potential private partners; support provider initiatives that meet Botetourt’s plan; leverage funding opportunities for chosen solutions; prepare for the county’s digital future; implement community programs that improve adoption and utilization of the plan, and leverage the infrastructure for Smart Community Services.

Terry has already accumulated a considerable amount of data that she’s using to load to the county’s GIS system.

Terry said it will still take years “to get you where you want to go,” affordable broadband service across the county.

She said the county needs to know what initiatives to support, and alluded to the “hornets nest” of activity that’s followed the Broadband Summit.

“My goal is to give the county clarity to what the county needs and how to pursue it,” she said, adding that the county will be offered some things it may not want to follow.

She said she’s looking at where the county needs to be in three years. “Local leaders are the ones who can drive this forward,” she said.

The Broadband Commission will go through a bit of a remake to avoid some conflicts that are evolving.

That remake includes County Administrator Gary Larrowe and Roanoke Valley Broadband Executive Director Frank Smith resigning from the commission to become essentially support staff and consultant.

Larrowe said it will keep from muddying the water in what could be conflicting roles as commission members and county and RVBC staff.

Commission member Arleen Boyd reported on the Virginia Smart Cities Readiness Workshop she attended and recommended the commission and county look into the Smart Cities Initiative to become a Smart Community.


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