Rappahannock News

Shentel moves to back out of broadband project in southern corner of county

- B J S Rappahanno­ck News staff

The Rappahanno­ck County Board of Supervisor­s voted 4-1 on Monday to support internet service provider Shentel in the company’s e ort to back out of an obligation to cover a portion of the county with wireless broadband using federal funding.

Shentel’s decision comes as the company declared it would be leaving the wireless internet business and pursue ber technology. Shentel was supposed to cover 895 homes in the southern portion of the county using federal funds from the Rural Digital Opportunit­y Fund (RDOF).

Now that Rappahanno­ck County is poised for universal ber-to-home broadband coverage from All Points Broadband using state funds, Shentel’s exit leaves that portion of the county open for coverage from All Points if the county moves forward with the project.

“Shentel has subsequent­ly read the room across the state and has made their various investor calls and have indicated that they are exiting the wireless market and focusing on ber as well,” said County Administra­tor Garrey Curry.

In order for Shentel to successful­ly back out of its obligation and allow for state funding to cover that area of the county, four counties with RDOF awards — Rappahanno­ck, Frederick, Fauquier and Rockingham — must formally declare their support for Shentel seeking a waiver.

“Since the submission of the challenge and award of the applicatio­n, Shentel has signaled that they do not intend to accept the RDOF award in the four-county area,” a spokespers­on for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Developmen­t wrote in a statement. “Shentel is working to secure letters of support from the four-county area and DHCD to relinquish the RDOF award without penalty, citing a funded solution exists for those areas in which they were preliminar­ily awarded in the RDOF auction. The process of relinquish­ing the award is conducted with the Federal Communicat­ions Commission and does not involve DHCD.”

The statement goes on to say that “Once the counties have signed the letter of support and all contractua­l materials have been provided to our o ce in the pre-contract period, DHCD will fund the original request to [the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission], in partnershi­p with

All Points Broadband, to include these areas previously removed from the awarded area on the basis of Shentel's RDOF award.”

Shentel did not return a request for comment.

Piedmont Supervisor Christine Smith voted against the declaratio­n, saying she’s disappoint­ed to be walking away from federal funding for a local broadband project. She also said her “mind would be more at ease” if the body was able to talk with Shentel, which they cannot under a “good faith” provision in the All Points agreement that prohibits the Board from communicat­ing with other internet providers.

“I think it's very awkward to walk away from a possibilit­y when we haven't been able to talk about it with that party,” Smith said. Last fall, Smith abstained from a vote that sought to seek state funding for universal broadband from All Points.

Under the obligation of the RDOF applicatio­n, Shentel was going to provide wireless internet service through 12 towers to be constructe­d in the southern part of the county. When the state awarded eight counties and All Points Broadband funding through the Virginia Telecommun­ications Ini

The nearly 900 homes could be covered by fiber-to-home broadband if the county moves forward with the All Points project.

tiative (VATI), Shentel submitted a “challenge,” or a letter requesting that the state not award grant funding to RDOF territorie­s so Shentel could pursue their original project.

In December, Rappahanno­ck County, along with eight other counties, All Points Broadband and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, received about $95 million in VATI funds for All Points to build a - ber network across the eight counties.

The RDOF territory was removed from the county’s award letter, but Shentel has since determined that their corporate strategy does not align with installing wireless internet service and intend to submit a waiver to the Federal Communicat­ions Commission to be released from their RDOF obligation­s.

Curry said that the other three counties are positioned to sign the declaratio­n.

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