Yes. On December 9, 2020, The Hanover County Board of Supervisors adopted a Blueprint to Broadband plan for ultimately providing internet access to unserved and underserved residents.
Just over a year ago the Board of Supervisors created an advisory committee of industry expects and staff to focus on the critical need of broadband for unserved areas and underserved areas of Hanover County. The committee outlined a path from which to solve this issue for county residents.
While broadband internet access is essential, Information Technology Director Kevin Nelson told the Board at its December 13 meeting, the solution will have to be diverse and will take commitments of resources, including staff to administer, time and funding.
“Hanover County is too big to have just one solution,” Nelson told the Board. “There is no practical way to get fiber (in-ground cable) to everyone in Hanover. Fiber is part of the solution, wireless is part of the solution, satellite is part of the solution.”
Nelson presented an array of findings and recommendations of the Broadband Advisory Committee. The committee recommended that the county government leverage the expertise and infrastructure of private internet service providers. Part of this approach is to use grants to supplement funding solutions because applications are stronger when local funding is included. The full report can be read here.
As an interim solution, the County is using CARES Act funding to increase local access at the location of county government facilities. By the end of the year, public Wi-Fi areas will be installed at five park facilities (Courthouse Park, Pole Green Park Community Center, Taylor Complex, Poor Farm Park and the Montpelier Community Center-Parks & Recreation building). It will also be in the parking lot at the County Courthouse complex and at the Fleet Services building on North Lakeridge Parkway, as well as outside the County’s libraries.
Hanover will continue to seek federal and state funding opportunities. The county government is not eligible to apply for grants on its own, but it joined with Comcast and CenturyLink this summer to seek funding in two separate applications to serve about 1800 customers in the far eastern and western portions of the county. A decision on those grant applications is expected to come before the end of the year.
“We absolutely welcome any internet, wireless or satellite provider to Hanover County,” Nelson told the Board. For example, he emphasized, “we would love for Verizon to come here with Fios. They have said they are not going to. They have said that, not we. We will take all comers. We just want solutions.”
In addition to those residents who are unserved, others have service that they are unhappy with, either because of the quality or the cost or both. Addressing those issues might take longer but are a focus of the plan, said County Administrator John A. Budesky.
“There’s not going to be a silver bullet that solves the internet problem,” Budesky told the Board. A team of staff has been established to focus on short and long-term solutions. He projected that addressing all the issues might take 10 years.
Board members all agreed that it is important to find a solution. Ashland District supervisor Faye O. Prichard feared the County was falling “further and further behind” in providing solutions for businesses and schools. Henry District supervisor Sean Davis recognized the funding challenge, but looked forward to continued dialogue and community input.
The Board’s adoption of the plan enables the County to move forward with review of specific policy recommendations.