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Culpeper gets CARES grant to expand broadband
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Culpeper gets CARES grant to expand broadband

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Virginia broadband access

Verizon utility worker Steve Hammond installs fiber-optic cable in Richmond in 2006 as phone companies spent billions of dollars to build networks for broadband internet access.

Culpeper has been awarded $921,466 to improve high-speed internet access to underserved parts of the county.

Laura Loveday, the county’s special projects and grants administrator, secured the state grant. The funding came from the CARES Act relief bill passed by Congress in response to 2020’s novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I am encouraged by the public awareness that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided regarding rural broadband access,” Loveday said in a statement Thursday. “My hope is that in the very near future we achieve internet connectivity for all the rural residents of Culpeper County and Virginia.”

In early October, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged localities to apply for CARES grants to fast-track broadband, as the pandemic forced millions of the commonwealth’s students, businesses and households to seek more internet access.

“Broadband is to today’s economy like electricity was generations ago—when you have it, you can get ahead,” Northam said on Oct. 7 in announcing the grants’ availability. “That’s why we are directing $30 million in CARES Act funding to fast-track broadband projects across Virginia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Northam encouraged projects that would increase broadband connectivity for distance learning and telework as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Virginia urged local governments to collaborate with public and private partners to address people’s needs during the public health emergency, Loveday said. The commonwealth priorities projects that could be completed before Christmas 2020.

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Culpeper County submitted two projects that could be designed, permitted and built before year’s end, Loveday said.

The first one will extend Comcast infrastructure to 52 homes in the Culpeper Lakes neighborhood, costing $487,217. Comcast will match those grant funds with another $65,981.

The second project will deploy wireless internet in partnership with All Points Broadband, extending broadband internet to 200 households in the Stevensburg area. It will cost $434,249.

“It is important to note that the All Points Broadband project awarded is the initial phase of a County-wide approach to increase internet connectivity currently under consideration by the Culpeper Board of Supervisors,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal said in a statement. “We know just how difficult the lack of internet options has been for our community, and we are pursuing every opportunity to increase access to our residents.”

A preliminary estimate found that more than 4,300 Culpeper County households and businesses don’t have adequate, affordable internet access, County AdministratorJohn Egertson said.

“The already apparent need for rural internet connectivity was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Egertson said. “We are excited to bring this supplemental funding to Culpeper County and are grateful to our two project partners for their willingness to work with us on this initiative.”

Deal said the Board of Supervisors appreciates the hard work and dedication of Egertson, Loveday and other county staff members on the broadband projects, and others that are underway.

“Supervisor Tom Underwood has long been a proponent for rural internet access and has also lent his support and leadership in all of the broadband-specific initiatives that are being developed,” Deal said. “We are grateful to him as well.”

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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