County receives proposal for broadband service

Amherst County recently received an unsolicited proposal to bring broadband into underserved and unserved portions of thecounty and is about to begin soliciting counter-proposals for expanded broadband coverage. County Administrator Dean Rodgers said Arrington-based SCS Broadband has submitted an unsolicited Public-Private Educational Facilities Infrastructure Act (PPEA) proposal and a £5,000 associated fee. Rodgers said SCS Broadband contacted the county more than a year ago expressing interest in bringing broadband into the area.

The PPEA Act of 2002 enables public bodies to partner with private entities to bring private sector expertise to bear on public projects, according to the Virginia Department of General Services. The counter-proposal solicitation will be active for 45 days, Rodgers said, during which anyone in the broadband industry is invited to submit a proposal to the county. Rodgers said SCS Broadband’s proposal suggests unlimited internet at 10 megabytes per second for £35 a month for connected residents.

“High speed is considered 100 [megabytes per second], so this is low speed, which is enough to do your homework and email,” Rodgers said. “It’s really good for people right now who have to sit at the McDonald’s to do their homework.” The goal, Rodgers said, is to achieve or exceed 90 percent coverage countywide. Currently the county is roughly 40 percent covered, he said.

Coverage is slated to be achieved by a chosen provider installing equipment on the county’s five public safety towers. SCS Broadband’s proposal states installation would take approximately one month per tower. Rodgers said for residents in dead spots, such as in a hollow or behind a mountain, coverage can be achieved by installing a small antenna on a high point above the resident’s house.

In November 2016, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors approved a measure allowing the ability to locate broadband devices on the public safety towers and construct small broadband towers. Rodgers said the goal is to help residents living in rural areas since Madison Heights and the town of Amherst already have cable laid in its neighborhoods, giving those residents access. “[When] you get out of those two communities, everybody’s working on satellite or dial-up or nothing,” Rodgers said. “That’s who we’re trying to help, the ones who have nothing or very limited or very expensive [access].”

Along with counter proposals, Rodgers said the county also is in the process of soliciting an expert to help advise the county on proposals received.

Two Amherst residents recently were appointed by Amherst County Broadband Authority to aid the authority in choosing an expert and PPEA proposals.

“The selection committee will review, we’ll negotiate the best we can with each of them then we’ll review and we’ll make a recommendation to the board of supervisors,” Rodgers said.

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