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Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks are jointly committed to creating an extensive fiber-to-the-home network that reaches almost every home in the county. During Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Bob Warren, School Board Chairman Sam Burton, and RiverStreet Networks CEO Eric Cramer signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to leverage all possible funding opportunities to continue to expand fiber across Pittsylvania County.
As the first phase of this joint project, Pittsylvania County and Pittsylvania County Schools are committing a combined $16.5 million to a $75,696,939 fiber-to-the-home project. RiverStreet Networks is also willing to provide a $19.6 million match. The remaining $39.5 million is expected to come from a grant from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Within approximately three years, RiverStreet Networks is planning to pass 11,985 unserved places, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with this fiber network. Additional funding opportunities are being sought to expand the number of unserved homes that can be passed with this fiber network.
"This Board of Supervisors understands that reliable and affordable internet access is no longer a luxury; it's a utility that every resident of Pittsylvania County should have available to them," said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. "We are committed to expanding access to fiber networks to all of our residents and businesses through every resource at our disposal. Through this significant investment and lasting partnership with RiverStreet, we will continue to leverage other funding opportunities to give more of our community the ability to get online. After realizing several years ago that the Laurel Grove community would never get reliable broadband without significant investments, Dan River Supervisor Joe Davis has been persistent in keeping the issue of broadband access in front of the Board of Supervisors – as well as the community at large.”
“We are thrilled to bring fiber based high speed internet to Pittsylvania County. Upgrading and expanding our existing network in Pittsylvania County into more rural communities will be the foundation for better connectivity for the community,” said Eric Cramer, President and CEO of RiverStreet Networks. “The current pandemic has given us an immediate, real world, example of how access to technology and connectivity are vital to educational, civic and economic successes. This partnership will align with our goal of providing more unserved and unserved communities with broadband connectivity.”
“Pittsylvania County Schools is so glad to be able to partner with RiverStreet Networks and Pittsylvania County to expand internet access across our communities,” said Sam Burton, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County School Board. “The need for every student of Pittsylvania County Schools to have reliable and affordable internet access was already apparent before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the last year and a half has only crystalized that need even more. We are excited for the progress that this partnership and project will make in connecting so many of our students.”
Anybody who wants to learn more about Pittsylvania County’s commitment to expanding internet access should visit pittsylvaniacountyva.gov/broadband, and those who want to learn more about RiverStreet Networks’ service and express interest in receiving internet access should visit join.buildpittsylvania.com.
This partnership represents a major shift in the way that the Board of Supervisors is working to tackle a lack of internet access, one of the biggest problems facing Pittsylvania County. As part of a strategic plan adopted in 2019, the Board of Supervisors set a goal of that at least 90% of county residents should have broadband access by 2024. Within that plan, the Board committed to helping facilitate broadband from the private sector, but Pittsylvania County is now significantly increasing its investment, and as a result will participate in a revenue-sharing agreement with RiverStreet Networks. This means that Pittsylvania County will generate revenue from all new customers within the county, and all of those funds will be re-invested into broadband expansion efforts.
RiverStreet Networks is an award-winning communications technology company headquartered in Wilkesboro, NC. For 70 years, RiverStreet Networks has played an active role in providing telecommunication services and connecting communities with broadband service. RiverStreet Networks is focused on delivering the latest and best technology to unserved rural areas. Service is provided in areas of North Carolina and Virginia with excellent telephone, internet, video, security systems and business solutions.
While there are a few other internet providers in Pittsylvania County, none of them have demonstrated a commitment to leveraging available funding opportunities to reach those who are currently unserved. RiverStreet Networks is built on a mission of using creative means to provide internet in rural areas that are simply not cost-effective markets for companies focused on profits. This project specifically targets those that do not have broadband access at this time.
As defined by the FCC, broadband access means download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second. This is often referred to as speeds of 25/3. While this is the bare minimum speed for broadband, the majority of customers on RiverStreet’s network are expected to have speeds that significantly exceed the broadband threshold, with the majority of them even having speeds of 100/100.
The current project will pass 11,985 eligible funded locations, as defined by the FCC. The Memorandum of Understanding between RiverStreet Networks and Pittsylvania County shows the commitment of both organizations to expand broadband access to every Pittsylvania County residence by jointly pursuing other funding opportunities on the state and federal level. Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks share a singular goal: providing universal coverage across Pittsylvania County.
Pittsylvania County and Pittsylvania County Schools are both contributing a significant portion of the funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to this project. Pittsylvania County Schools are contributing $5.5 million and Pittsylvania County is contributing an additional $6.5 million. For the remaining $4.5 million, Pittsylvania County is taking out a revenue bond, the payments for which will be covered by the revenue generated through Pittsylvania County’s revenue sharing with RiverStreet Networks.
Pittsylvania County first announced a partnership with RiverStreet Networks in March of this year for a joint fixed wireless project. That was always seen as a stopgap before fiber coverage could be provided, which is why those funds are being rolled over into this fiber network expansion. Now that additional funding opportunities are available, Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks are focused on expanding the fiber network, which will provide the highest speed and reliability for county residents.