Gloucester seeks broadband grants

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Sep 04, 2019 - 01:32 PM

Gloucester is one step closer to being able to serve nearly 2,000 underserved homes and businesses with broadband after county staff has taken the steps to apply for a series of Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grants.

Assistant county administrator Carol Steele is spearheading the effort, and said she is really excited about the potential these grant requests hold to serving the community.

Steele told the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors during its meeting Tuesday night in the colonial courthouse that serving the areas of the community that currently don’t have access to broadband internet is “something I’m passionate about.”

She said currently, about 85 percent of the county is able to connect to broadband internet. However, the remaining 15 percent needs to be added, and with these grant opportunities, she said there is a good chance of a majority of those remaining to be included. 

Though it may take upwards of three months to hear from the state on the grant requests, “it doesn’t mean we hit that submit button and wait three months,” Steele said. In the meantime, Steele and other county staff will be making preparations in the event that the county is awarded the funding.

One of the first steps Steele is working toward is getting a map established on Gloucester County’s website. The map will allow residents to input their address to see if they will be included in the areas the grant would service. “If they are included, it doesn’t mean we have the money, but it means they are in stage one of the grant processes,” she said. 

One of the reasons she is optimistic about the prospect of the county receiving grant funding for broadband is the fact that Gloucester is working collaboratively with Mathews and Middlesex counties to help serve some residents in those localities as well.

“Because of the location of the towers, the grant will serve about 1,500 homes in Middlesex and Mathews,” Steele said. The governing bodies of both of those localities have submitted letters of support to the state to help bolster Gloucester’s grant requests.

One of the grants, a Cox Communications grant, would serve approximately 68 homes in neighborhoods off Guinea Road. Meanwhile an Open Broadband Grant, in the amount of about $2 million, would serve approximately 1,708 homes and businesses in the northern portion of Gloucester as well as areas of Ware Neck.

During its Aug. 6 meeting, supervisors approved funding up to $500,000 for broadband projects that will be used as matching funds for the grants. 

“The effort of all staff on this, particularly with Ms. Steele, is absolutely unparalleled,” said county administrator Brent Fedors. “My heartfelt thanks to you, Ms. Steele.”

“Any way you look at this, it’s a positive initiative … and it fulfills the board’s priority of expanding broadband to underserved areas of the community,” Fedors added.

Other matters

In other news, the board heard an update from VDOT officials and voted 7-0 to remove all passing lanes on T.C. Walker Road and encourage VDOT to change the speed limit to 45 miles per hour for the entire length of the road. The board also voted for the entire length of Short Lane that carries traffic to and from Gloucester High School to be a no passing zone.

Also, the board voted 7-0 to:

—Amend the Stormwater Management portion of county code to allow Gloucester County to elect to use certain tiered water quantity control standards based on the percentage of impervious cover in the watershed for determining the water quantity technical criteria;

—Adopt the 2019 Floodplain Management Plan;

—Adopt a revised proffer policy for rezoning applications, and

—Provide an additional appropriation for a Virginia Port Authority Grant for permitting and contracting costs to dredge Aberdeen and Timberneck creeks.