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CARES funding to expand broadband access in Albemarle
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CARES funding to expand broadband access in Albemarle

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Albemarle County Seal 2020

Broadband internet access is coming to more Albemarle County residents.

With funding from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund, Firefly fiber broadband is going to be extended along Burchs Creek Road.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced that Albemarle had been awarded $230,245 in CARES funding for the Burchs Creek Road Project, which will extend fiber broadband along Burchs Creek Road from the completed Firefly section nearby on Midway Road.

It is an extension of a project that was partially funded in 2019 with Virginia Telecommunication Initiative funding. The new project will add, at a minimum, another 62 fiber internet locations. About 300 homes and businesses in the Midway substation area made a portion of the project eligible for the VATI grant, but all approximately 670 homes and businesses that are served by the substation are eligible for the broadband service.

“One of the advantages of that is that they were preparing for putting together an extension of their Midway project and other locations, and we were fortunate enough to work with them and the community ... was involved in getting together what are called private easements for some of the roads, which was really going to be a challenge from the timeframe to get everything done,” Albemarle Information Technology Director Michael Culp said at Wednesday’s Albemarle County Broadband Authority meeting.

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Northam announced earlier this month that Virginia is allocating $30 million from the CARES Act to improve broadband access in underserved localities. The funds must be spent and the service available by Dec. 25.

Orange County also will receive $2 million to provide wireless hotspots for its residents.

“We wish we could have done more,” Culp said. “We have several in the wings that are similar, definitely underserved areas, we just didn’t have enough time from a construction schedule to submit them.”

In a statement, Gary Wood, President and CEO of Firefly said the company will continue to look for opportunities to build into areas of need in Albemarle and all of central Virginia in the future.

Culp said the county had been trying to work with CenturyLink on a project proposal, but the timeline was too short.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to to get around that two month window, but ... we don’t want to stop doing the design and engineering work — it’s certainly a valued thing — so we’re going to continue in case there’s more funds that come in or the deadlines extended,” he said.

Supervisor Liz Palmer and Assistant County Executive Trevor Henry, who are on the ABBA board, asked about asking for some kind of extension. Culp said he could send a letter to area representation at the federal level asking them to extend CARES funding spreading deadlines for broadband, and the board agreed.

Allison Wrabel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7261, awrabel@dailyprogress.com or @craftypanda on Twitter.

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