At the top of Tobacco Row Mountain, Amherst County recently took a giant leap forward in boosting broadband coverage for rural areas, according to county officials.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jimmy Ayers, Supervisor Claudia Tucker and County Administrator Dean Rodgers joined Clay Stewart, chief operating officer of Arrington-based SCS Broadband, in late June on a project to use more than a handful of towers to beef up high speed internet in unserved and underserved portions of the county.
“Today is a banner day for us,” Tucker said at the June 24 ribbon-cutting.
She said her top priority since joining the board a decade ago was for the county to receive a massive broadband upgrade.
The board last fall approved a comprehensive agreement with SCS Broadband to provide broadband coverage through the use of a handful of public safety towers throughout the county, as well as two other towers. The first of those towers, referred to High Point at the top of Tobacco Row Mountain a few miles from the Virginia 130 corridor past Elon, came online Monday and has capacity to serve more than 3,000 residences, according to Stewart.
According to the lease agreement, the Nelson County-based company is locating its equipment on the towers, allowing many more residents to look into its available packages and upgrade what they have or start service.
“We want to serve as many as possible,” Ayers said.
He said many residents regularly ask him about broadband and the county has worked for years to bring a needed coverage boost with the help of the private sector.
Rodgers said officials hope about 90 percent of Amherst County will have broadband access by the end of the year; the measure gives residents more options with service providers.
Rural areas outside the more populated communities of Madison Heights and the town of Amherst are at grave disadvantage when it comes to broadband, Community Development Director Jeremy Bryant, who took part in Monday’s event, has said. Rodgers said high-speed broadband is a major part of the county’s initiative to become more friendly to businesses.
“Internet is the way of the day,” Ayers said.
Tucker said improving broadband capabilities is crucial for jobs. She is able to do her work with a telemedicine company from home and knows firsthand how important high-speed internet is, she said.
“It will only get better as more of those opportunities come our way,” Tucker said.
Stewart thanked the county for its partnership in what he described as a complex project that will add connectivity among towers.
Another project to boost internet in rural areas of Amherst also has picked up speed recently. Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, based in Nelson County with some customers in Amherst County, is set to receive $7.1 million in funding to voice-over IP phone service and gigabit speed broadband to serve 2,200 Amherst County residents, according to a news release the county issued Monday.
The Federal Communications Commission recently authorized $28.6 million in CVEC’s internet expansion project, which includes other localities in the cooperative’s service area, over the next 10 years. Homes in Amherst County not serviced by CVEC but are within a limited mile radius may also be able to purchase its broadband service, according to the county’s release.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.