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September 9, 2021

County OKs $64-million fiber optic broadband plan

The proposed network would make fiber-to-home service available to the county’s most remote areas.
All Points Broadband plans to install 705 miles of fiber optic cable to serve Northern and Southern Fauquier.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think big . . . to finally address the digital divide.
— All Points Broadband CEO Jimmy Carr
Broadband Plan
• What: 705-mile fiber optic network connecting underserved areas of Fauquier, which include 10,500 homes and businesses.

• Partners: All Points Broadband, Dominion Energy, Fauquier County and Rappahannock Electrical Cooperative.

• Total cost: $64 million.

• Funding: $38.8 million from All Points, $14.7 from state, $10.5 million from county.

• Timeline: Network construction finished in early 2024, assuming state grant approval.

• Service provider: Leesburg-based All Points.

• Installation cost: $199.

• Monthly charge: $59.99 for 50-Mbps to $119.99 for 1-Gbps.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Editor
After five, often-frustrating years of seeking a solution, Fauquier’s supervisors Thursday approved a $64-million plan that would make fiber optic broadband internet service available to the county’s underserved areas.

Also functioning as the five-member Fauquier County Broadband Authority board, the supervisors agreed to commit $10.5 million to the project’s cost.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think big . . . to finally address the digital divide,” All Points Broadband CEO Jimmy Carr told the board.

State and federal grants would fund up to 37 percent of the project’s costs.

His Leesburg-based company would build a 705-mile fiber optic network, extending service availability to 10,500 homes and businesses, Mr. Carr explained.

Partnering with Dominion Energy and Rappahannock Electrical Cooperative to run fiber on their utility poles, All Points has pledged $38.8 million toward building the network.

The company then would charge $59.99 to $199.99 a month to customers, depending upon which of four plans they choose. The basic plan would provide “symmetrical” 50-megabit-per-second download and upload service. The top plan would deliver 1-gigabit (1,000-Mbps) service up and down.

The project will depend upon winning a $14.7-million Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant. Virginia recently budgeted $700 million — atop $50 million already planned in 2022 — to fund broadband expansion to “unserved” and “underserved” areas of the state.

The county should know by year’s end whether the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development approves its grant application.

To qualify for state funding, an area must lack service with speeds of at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

American Rescue Plan funds, which the county plans to use for all or part of its share, can apply to projects in areas that lack “wired” service delivering those minimum speeds. So, even rural parts of Fauquier that have wireless broadband would qualify.

All Points initially would not run fiber cable in areas that have high-speed wired service, including Warrenton, Bealeton and New Baltimore.

The Fauquier network could begin providing service by early 2024, according to Mr. Carr.

“You’re taking on a lot,” said Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District), the broadband authority chairman, questioning All Points’ ability to wire dozens of communities in four states. “I assume you have the resources and manpower to get it done.”

Mr. Carr replied: “There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the supply chain. Our strategy is to be the biggest buyer in the room.”

All Points has a commitment from South Carolina-based AFL Global to provide all the fiber needed for its projects, he said.

“It’s the same with labor,” Mr. Carr added. “We work with guys who pay their people more.”

New York-based Searchlight Capital Partners, a $9-billion private equity firm, recently announced a multimillion-dollar investment in All Points to help fund the Leesburg company’s aggressive expansion.

Searchlight in second quarter of this year invested $1.5 billion in fiber network construction across the U.S., according to Mr. Carr.

The two electric companies involved with the Fauquier project also ensure success, Mr. Carr said.

“REC’s construction is well under way” to connect its facilities with fiber, he said. “Dominion is a large organization, and when they put their mind to something, they get it done.”

The electricity providers’ push to improve their systems with technology, combined with new state and federal funding, make running fiber to lower-density areas possible.

“We’re never gonna see an opportunity like this again,” Mr. Gerhardt said.

Although “fully supportive” of the project, Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District), who represents the county’s most-densely-populated area, raised the issue of equity for the parts of Fauquier ineligible for All Point’s planned network.

The company promises levels of service at prices unavailable in the county’s most densely-populated areas, he noted. “We have to be sensitive to that. We’re spending $6,000 per house” to wire outlying areas.

“This will be a great change for businesses that operate from homes,” Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District) said. “For as long as I’ve been a supervisor, people haven’t had that.”

Mr. Carr suggested that Comcast, Verizon and other providers probably will respond to competition in the area with better prices and service options. All Points eventually could run fiber at its own expense in areas ineligible for government-supported infrastructure, he added.

For individual customers, All Points will run fiber up to 500 feet to homes from distribution lines as part of its $199 installation fee. Beyond that, customers would pay $1.20 per foot.

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

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