Upon hearing that Virginia was releasing $30 million in CARES Act money for fast-tracking broadband, Stafford County turned an application around within ten days to secure $525,000 in funding to potentially connect up to 4,800 residences in Hartwood and Rock Hill. Stafford previously made broadband a priority with CARES Act funding received. The County added $97,000 to expand the County’s $1.3 million Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant-funded project in the Widewater/Marlborough Point area to Courthouse Road. An additional $180,000 funded a wireless broadband project with the AER Wireless project in the Hartwood area. All CARES Act projects must be completed by end of December 2020.
“The traditional providers do not expand into areas without density, leaving many folks without broadband which is crucial during COVID for working from home and online education,” said Supervisor Gary Snellings, Hartwood District. “This funding is a game-changer. I am hopeful that these efforts will attract more alternative providers, and residents will have more choices.”
Governor Ralph Northam announced the additional funds in early October. KGI Communications approached Stafford with a proposal to their wireless broadband technology to connect users in the Hartwood and Rock Hill Districts via two existing towers. KGI and County Staff determined that the project met the requirements of the CARES Act funding. Staff was able to turn the application around in less than ten days and received the notification of award a week later. The grant provides free consumer premises equipment to 250 homes where students qualify for free or reduced lunches, which will reduce the installation fees KGI charges to new subscribers.
“The silver lining to the Coronavirus has been the focus on the importance of broadband and the funding that has become available,” said Supervisor Crystal Vanuch, Rock Hill District. “We have made incredible efforts to turn these applications around quickly, and, as a result, we have had more activity on alternative internet solutions in 2020 than any year before.”
The technology being used in the Hartwood and Rock Hill project is fixed wireless. Fixed wireless internet is broadcasted through airwaves from towers to receivers installed on the user’s property, typically within 10 miles of the tower. The main challenge for getting fixed wireless is that the customer has to have line-of-sight with the tower or roof that is broadcasting connectivity nearest to them.