Three local counties were among 14 in rural Virginia that on Thursday were awarded a total of $7,909,964 by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Region Commission to expand broadband services.

Bedford County was awarded $670,500 for its broadband project, Appomattox was awarded $600,000 for its Pamplin Area Fiber Broadband Project and Campbell County was awarded $156,313 for its 2019 Last Mile Broadband Southeast Project.

The grant comes one day after Comcast announced it would begin extending broadband services to more than 7,000 addresses in Smith Mountain Lake through a $3.5 million Last Mile Broadband Grant the tobacco commission gave the company in 2018.

The “Last Mile Broadband Program” grant provides funding for up to 50% of the construction for communities partnering with private sector providers to extend broadband access to unserved areas of the commonwealth.

This is the second grant Bedford County has received from the commission. In addition to a $1.04 million grant through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) received in March, these grants will cover 50% of the cost to build out broadband in the county to unserved and underserved areas, said Traci Blido, economic development director for the county.

Blido said the Bedford County Board of Supervisors is matching the total of the new grant and the VATI grant of $1,710,500 to provide internet services to all of Bedford County.

“This is an exciting day for Bedford County and rural Virginia,” Blido said. “We’re thrilled to get this funding that will help us build out broadband in Bedford County.”

Blido said the grant will help build 10 new towers across the county.

Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss said the funding is a great blessing for the community and he is thankful the state is willing to invest in the expansion of broadband for citizens, businesses and the children who want to succeed in their educational endeavors.

He said the funds matched by the board of supervisors come from the fiscal year 2020 capital improvement plan.

“That’s one of the components that makes our project successful. We have studied what is needed to make it work in Bedford County, we’re so far down the line,” he said.

Hiss said the goal is to accomplish the project by the end of the year.

Mike Davidson, economic development director for Campbell County, said he looks forward to completing the administrative work and getting the project started with partner SCS Broadband.

“This project will utilize an existing tower in Brookneal that SCS has installed equipment on but hasn’t activated yet and extend wireless broadband service to the southeastern portion of Campbell County along the [U.S.] 501 corridor,” he said.

On Wednesday, Comcast announced it has begun installing broadband services in waves to the Smith Mountain Lake community as a part of the “Last Mile Broadband” project and is planning to contribute more than $5.8 million to the project.

Blido said the work began about a month ago and will serve 7,000 addresses in Smith Mountain Lake.

Curry Martin, a former Bedford Board of Supervisors member, owner of Glenwood Oil & Automotive and resident of Smith Mountain Lake, said he will personally benefit from the broadband expansion as it will run right by his property.

He added he has heard from many people who have expressed an interest in moving to Smith Mountain Lake but haven’t because of the lack of internet service.

“This will open up more businesses,” he said Thursday. “This will be really big. So many people in this day in time, they work from home. When they move to this area, they can’t work. It’s going to be great for the county.”

Martin said he also expects property values to increase from the expansion.

Delegate Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, who also is the chairman of the Research and Development Committee of the Tobacco Commission, said it is nearly impossible to have economic prosperity and opportunity without broadband access.

“This has been a long time coming and persistence has paid off,” she said. “With the help from the Tobacco Commission, local government, private providers, the commonwealth, all working toward the same goal, it has provided results for our citizens in Bedford County.”

The addition of broadband in Smith Mountain Lake helps small businesses, travelers and is a tremendous asset for tourism, she added.

“People who visit generally bring their business with them and they need dependable access where they don’t lose that connection,” she said Thursday. “Everyone has become so dependent on being connected so it’s really exciting that we can take care of our rural areas here in Central Virginia.”

According to the release, in addition to Gigabit Internet service, residents in Smith Mountain Lake will have access to all Xfinity services, including the award-winning Xfinity X1 video platform, Xfinity Home, Xfinity Voice and Xfinity Mobile, and businesses can get the full suite of Comcast Business products and services, including ethernet network speeds up to 100 gigabytes per second.

Comcast said it plans to begin rolling-out services to parts of the area this month with an expected completion of the project by the end of the year.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434)385-5482

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