A goal of providing wireless broadband internet access to unserved and underserved rural areas of Amherst County is gaining momentum with an agreement in the works between the county and a Nelson County-based company.

The Amherst County Broadband Authority voted unanimously last week to send the proposed agreement with AcelaNet LLC in Arrington to a July 17 public hearing. Under the agreement, the company, also known as SCS Broadband, would co-locate its equipment on five public safety towers owned or controlled by the Region 2000 Radio Communications Board to improve broadband coverage to schools, businesses and residential areas in Amherst County.

“Rural areas are at a grave disadvantage,” said Jeremy Bryant, director of community development, of the need to boost coverage.

Fortunately for Amherst County, Bryant said, the handful of public safety towers are scattered in rural areas. If the county approves the agreement as expected in September, Bryant said, SCS Broadband anticipates locating on High Peak, the first tower, by Nov. 4. Buffalo Ridge, the second tower, would follow by Jan. 4; Panther Mountain, the third, by March 4; the Amherst Control tower , the fourth, by May 4; and Rocky Mountain, the final tower, by July 4 of next year, according to Bryant.

The company will perform structural testing to ensure the towers are capable of handling equipment, the proposed agreement states. Bryant said SCS Broadband would not be charged for using the towers.

“We’re asking them to provide a service that no other entities are proposing. We’re helping create a path for a company, a wireless internet service provider, to do business and to provide service in the rural portions of our county,” Bryant said to authority, which consists of members of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors. “We certainly think it’s going to make a huge difference for our citizens.”

The agreement does not include Sweet Briar College, which Bryant said also is in talks with SCS Broadband.

Bryant said Sweet Briar has told the county it has a spectrum to help create better coverage and the company is working to strike a deal with the college. Bryant said he considers the potential Sweet Briar component the second phase of overall broadband improvements for the county.

“It will light the county more with their help,” Bryant said of Sweet Briar. “We’re going to make a huge difference for a lot of people. With Sweet Briar’s partnership, that will even increase the number of people who can be reached.”

If a delay in the project arises, the authority has the ability to penalize the company $200 a day unless there are unforeseen circumstances, according to the agreement and last Tuesday’s discussion. County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the deployment schedule is spread out the way it is so SCS Broadband can avoid those potential liquidated damages.

“We want to have some way to hold their feet to the fire and give them an incentive to perform on a schedule …they’re going to be trying to move a lot faster,” Rodgers said.

Michael Russell, a member of the Amherst Economic Development Authority, said he is glad to see the agreement in place.

“We hear from businesses all the time, ‘You’ve got to have broadband,’” Russell said at last Thursday’s meeting of the Amherst County

Planning Commission, of which he serves as a liaison member. “It’s a major factor in real estate transactions. Hopefully, this will be a solution to our dilemma. And it is a dilemma.”

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