The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) is calling on Internet service providers (ISPs) and regional localities to work together with its support on applications for grant funding that would expand broadband Internet services throughout rural areas of Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig Counties.
More than $49 million in competitive grants are being offered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to extend broadband service to un-served and under-served areas like these throughout the commonwealth. The RVBA hopes to maximize the grants awarded in the Roanoke Valley by coordinating a cooperative effort between service providers and the localities.
“The RVBA exists to support the growth and expansion of broadband across the Valley. Fostering cooperation between Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig counties and the ISPs operating in these regions will yield greater grant awards that will lead to more connectivity,” said Frank Smith, President and CEO, RVBA. “These localities have made significant investments and seen tremendous growth over the past several years, but the work is far from complete, and they cannot do it alone. We hope service providers will respond and work collaboratively with the localities to apply for these grants that will benefit local citizens, local businesses and the overall economic vitality of the region for decades to come.”
Through its leadership role in working with its member localities, the RVBA will serve as a central coordination point for service providers to partner with its member localities in support of VATI applications, taking a cooperative approach to addressing the needs of the un-served and under-served in the Valley.
Despite its prevalence in urban and suburban areas, there is a significant lack of high-speed internet access in outlying rural areas of Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig Counties. This prevents many residents from engaging in opportunities like telehealth, distance learning and remote work that the COVID-19 pandemic has made commonplace; significantly limits business communications and data technology; and hampers further economic development. In Roanoke County, for instance, more than 30% of households are considered unserved or under-served by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) minimum standards according to a 2019-2020 broadband availability study.
“Roanoke County places a high priority on getting high-speed broadband to as many houses and businesses as possible and our ultimate goal is ‘universal coverage’ throughout the County. This is crucial for economic development, distance learning and telemedicine. Working regionally through the RVBA to define and solicit projects is the best way to provide ‘universal coverage,’” said Dan O’Donnell, Roanoke County Administrator. “Our strategy is to combine federal, state, local and private provider funds to shape public-private partnerships that must be formed to successfully solve the rural
broadband problem in our region. We look forward to working with the RVBA and local providers to obtain funding from the VATI grants as part of this.”
The situation is similar in Botetourt County where an estimated 20 percent of homes lack high-speed broadband access.
“We are pushing hard to reach 100 percent county-wide broadband connectivity because access, reliability and affordability is more important than ever,” said Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe. “We have been fortunate to have been awarded more than $2 million in prior VATI grants that is allowing us to extend broadband network services to more than 1,000 homes and businesses across the county, but we have more infrastructure to establish and homes and businesses to reach before we achieve our goal. We’ll be most successful when we can combine our efforts.”
The RVBA will host a VATI Kick-Off Meeting at the RVBA office in downtown Roanoke on Wednesday, July 21 from 10 a.m.-noon for interested providers. During the meeting, attendees will discuss opportunities for partnership and cooperation. Participating localities will provide an overview of their desired VATI application targets and points of contact for service providers interested in partnering with them.
DHCD anticipates announcing VATI grant awards in December 2021.