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Culpeper targets first fibre-to-home link by year-end, Orange connects 3,000th customer | Company

The race to connect rural Virginia continues at varying speeds, even as localities compete for more government funding to bridge the digital divide, which still disadvantages millions of people.

In Culpeper County, a tentative start date is December for the first section of homes to connect to All Points Broadband, thanks to the government’s nearly two-year initiative to bring the internet to its citizens.

The Leesburg-based company oversees the project here and others like it across the state. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy are financial partners in Culpeper County, providing access over existing power lines to broadband equipment and extensions.

Culpeper County’s $34 million, 536-mile fiber-to-the-home project will reach more than 4,000 addresses currently without affordable broadband access. The Board of Supervisors and county staff have been negotiating the primarily grant-funded project since fall 2020.

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A plan to bring reliable internet to people nationwide has been in the works for longer in Culpeper, though the availability during COVID of federal and state dollars to build the networks has finally sped the process along, but not fast enough for some.

Meanwhile, in Orange County, Fiberlync recently connected its 3,000th rural customer to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet since the Board of Supervisors established its own company in April 2021.

Next step: assess 10,400 poles

Culpeper County executed its contract with the Commonwealth of Virginia on August 4, 2022 for the use of VATI funds covering a quarter of total project costs through the highly competitive Virginia Telecommunications Initiative.

Now, All Points is working with utility companies to review and approve each of the thousands of utility poles on which it will place fiber-to-home attachments.

That pole review is expected to take three months from contract execution, by early November, according to Laura Loveday, Culpeper County Grants Administrator.

The first homes in Culpeper County will be offered service beginning in Month 4 of the project, according to the contract with All Points. This means by the December holidays, weather permitting, of course.

Now the utility poles are being evaluated to ensure they can handle the added load of the extra fiber, according to REC’s director of broadband and fiber services, Mark Ponton, in a staff report. of the county to the public works committee of the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors on June 14. Meet.

In many cases there are already fixings on the poles and “preparing” work needs to be done to see if the existing cables need to be raised or lowered. They should also check to see if the posts are high enough and can handle the excess weight and strain, according to the REC report.

A designer will evaluate and make these decisions, and it will take “a little time” to commission the posts, evaluate them in a software system, and create an order for all the posts that need to be updated.

At that point, a construction team will make the necessary updates, and then the fiber can be built on the poles, according to the REC’s report to the committee.

If the poles need to be replaced due to structural issues, that will be the REC’s responsibility, according to Loveday.

If poles need to be replaced due to broadband equipment requirements, that’s All Points’ responsibility, she said.

According to REC, the vast majority of pole replacements are due to communication needs, Loveday said.

Communication equipment should be at least 40 inches below any electrical equipment.

All Points management said the pole attachment issue is primarily a ladder issue.

“We are targeting approximately 10,400 poles across the county. That’s just an order of magnitude more than electric utility partners are used to processing in such a short time,” according to a committee report.

“REC is a great partner and ahead of the rest when it comes to fiber deployment, having achieved more than most electric utilities.”

All Points has designed several months of fiber construction with the first phase of field activity beginning now, to “prepare” the utility poles, according to a presentation in June. The company said it will actively work with REC and Dominion to improve the efficiency of the more than 10,000 poles.

Customers will be notified about 90 days before the go-live, according to the company. Residents interested in registering can do so at fibre.allpointsbroadband.com.

All Points is currently recruiting Field Technicians, Customer Service Representatives and Field Sales Representatives. Fiber contractors interested in working with them should email [email protected]

Cost and project update

Once fiber is in place, residents who wish to connect will pay a $99 fee for a maximum extension of 500 feet to their home. All Points will charge $1.15 to $1.25 per additional foot to make the connection. The service will start at $59.99 per month, going up to $109.99.

Households meeting the income requirements could qualify for a $30 per month rebate under a federal affordability program.

All Points Broadband will provide periodic public updates as the project progresses, Government Affairs Director Kyle Rosner said in an email last week to the Star-Exponent.

“We work closely with our power utility partners and contractors on the many discrete tasks that need to be accomplished on a project of this magnitude,” he said.

In Orange County, Fiberlync only lays underground cable and does not install devices on rural utility poles prone to prolonged outages in severe weather.

It’s more expensive, but in the event of a power outage, Fiberlyn customers with a generator still have internet at home. The Star-Exponent asked All Points how reliable their service would be, located on utility lines.

Rosner responded in the email by saying that the decision of whether a particular route will be aerial or underground is based on a cost-benefit analysis that considers both upfront and ongoing operating costs.

“It’s difficult to make sweeping statements about the specific impact of a particular weather event at a particular location at a particular time in the future. There are just too many variables,” he said.

VATI awards next round, Comcast wants to participate

All Points Broadband has received millions in VATI funds for its various projects in the state, working primarily with power companies.

Orange County Supervisor Jim White leads the Orange Broadband Authority in charge of Fiberlync. A request for funding for continued service expansion was rejected last year for a VATI grant, for a variety of reasons, according to state officials, one being the more expensive investment in underground cable.

Orange County recently submitted a second VATI grant application asking for $2.5 million for a $13 million extension that will reach the last, last mile, White told the Star-Exponent at a recent event. in the city of Orange. Fiberlync’s 88-mile extension would reach 697 homes, he said.

Culpeper County, in an unlikely partnership, is also applying for FY23 TIV funding, in conjunction with cable giant, Comcast.

The demand is for $8.8 million, with cash consideration from Comcast of $2.2 million. The project would reach rural pockets of the county currently listed in census blocks served by Comcast or other providers, but not really.

If awarded, the majority state-funded project would extend Comcast’s infrastructure by 118 miles. The expansion would serve the remaining 758 locations in Culpeper County not covered by the previous VATI grant.

Serving homes inaccurately listed by Comcast as served in census tracts — the so-called Swiss cheese on the map — has long been a point of contention and frustration for many residents unable to get cable, or whoever else, let them provide broadband. This makes homes and entire areas ineligible for grant-funded internet extensions.

The FCC is working to update these maps by this fall so that it does not list Internet service areas as census tracts, but instead lists address by individual address.

“We found 150 small, underserved pockets, mostly residential, with no internet service in census areas that claim to be served,” Loveday said.

Federal dollars could also help bring services to those areas if the VATI grant with Comcast is not successful, she said.

Catalpa supervisor Paul Bates at the regular meeting on September 6 questioned the cost of nearly $9 million to serve 758 homes with Comcast Internet.

“I’m afraid to take… taxpayers’ money and give it to a company that’s supposed to serve these areas,” he said.