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Connect Hanover broadband initiative officially underway

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The Local

Project officials announced that the county’s Connect Hanover universal broadband initiative is officially underway during last week’s board of supervisors meeting.

The Connect Hanover initiative, in partnership with Dominion Energy and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, intends to provide broadband and high-speed internet access to all unserved homes and businesses in Hanover County in the next three years. After careful search, the county partnered with All Points Broadband as its designated internet service provider to help deliver broadband access through a fiber-to-the-home solution.

All Points and the county received news in December 2021 that they have been awareded a provisional Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant of $13.97 million for the project.

Kevin Nelson, director of information technology for Hanover County, said the county signed a contract with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and All points on Aug. 4, 2022, officially kicking off the clock for the project’s two-year deadline.

Nelson said they are currently working to reach an agreement with Lumen Technologies, formerly known as CenturyLink. While the county applied for VATI grant funding for 7,235 identified “passings” – residents, businesses and public facilities they can provide service to in the county – Lumen applied for federal funding for 1,037 of the passings within the VATI grant service area.

The state required that an agreement be made between the two service providers and is working diligently with Lumen to identify a solution.

“I do not know what the disposition is,” Nelson said. “I will say this – that the 1,037 passings will be served. I just can’t tell you if it will be Lumen who provides that service or All Points.”

Nelson clarified that if the state cannot reach a solution with Lumen, they will give the county and All Points funding to provide the service.

Jimmy Carr, chief executive officer of All Points, gave an extensive overview of the project’s sequencing over the next few years.

All Points has partnered with a number of counties, but they have received the most “senior attention” from county administrator John Budesky and his staff on the universal broadband initiative, Carr said.

“This is a county where the staff has demonstrated by their actions how important this is,” Carr said, praising Budesky and his team for working diligently throughout the process.

Project officials have begun purchasing long-lead time materials that will be needed for delivery over the next 18 months in order to meet their construction schedule. They have additionally secured committed manufacturing capacity for required fiber and electronics and have entered into a multi-year commitment with AFL Telecommunications to manufacture all the fiber cable needed for Hanover County and other projects.

Around 443 miles of distribution fiber will be constructed with an additional middle mile and transport layer, which will make fiber-to-the-home broadband available to 6,198 unserved passings, Carr said.

Carr outlined how the project’s first quarter is currently underway, which kicks off an ongoing process of “fielding,” “make-ready” and low-level design.

He explained the intricate components of the fielding process that are required in order for existing utility poles to be “made ready” for attachment of fiber cables.

The fielding process involves crews cataloging the measurements of each existing utility pole and analysis by project engineers to determine if the pole is high enough to attach the cables to it. The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) requires that an electrical attachment’s lowest point be at least 18 feet above the ground.

After analysis is conducted, All Points must reach out to the corresponding electric utility for permission to attach to each pole, which will include additional analysis and oftentimes requires design adjustments and additional work to meet all necessary requirements.

Explaining the process of building fiber networks, Carr said that to light one customer, the entire fiber distribution area (FDA) must be constructed, which may comprise of anywhere between three and 500 locations. To help make service available as soon as possible and meet the project’s deadline, project officials will likely target FDAs that are more constructible first while simultaneously working through the make-ready process with others that require more work or face any permitting challenges, he said.

“Once the first FDA is lit, and then the subsequent FDA is lit, then you will see installations and ongoing operations,” Carr said. “So… there’s several processes running concurrently.”

Carr said they will have a better idea of which FDAs are going to be constructed first by the end of the fourth quarter. All Points will submit a monthly report to the county and state beginning in September with project updates.

“One of the objectives that the county had was not only to make broadband universally available, but also to make sure that that service was affordable,” Carr said.

According to Carr, All Points already has very competitive pricing in the VATI grant project area and additionally became a participant in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a federally-funded discount of $30 a month off a qualifying household’s broadband bill.

“There are a whole lot of categories of consumers that qualify for this program, and we are going to do everything we can to help make sure that people who qualify are entitled to this benefit,” Carr said.

If a customer is in an FDA that has been lit and has visited the All Points Broadband website (APBfiber.com) to submit all relevant information, they will receive an email or phone call 90 days prior to construction and another notice 30 days prior to construction to confirm which residential service level is requested, any preference for an installation window, and if the customer wishes to apply for the discount.

Pricing will be based on a one-year service commitment. The residential service levels will include 50x50 Mbps for $29.99 with the discount and $59.99 without the discount.

Carr said according to Netflix, it takes 5 Mbps to stream in HD video with no buffering.

“So if you’re in a low-income household in Hanover County, you will be able to simultaneously stream 10 HD videos if your home router is good enough… with no buffering for $29.99 a month,” Carr said. “So this is a very high quality plan at a very, very affordable price.”

All Points will also offer a voice service with virtually unlimited U.S. local and long distance calling for $19.99 a month.

The first year’s standard installation fee for a long drop will be a set price of $199. Carr said they will work to identify any potential customer in the area with a long drop in the first 12 months after service is available.

Supervisor Mike Herzberg of the Cold Harbor District inquired about new developments that may spring up during the project’s construction period and if they will receive service.

“Using our own resources, if there’s a new subdivision that comes up that is inside our project area, we have the distribution capacity to serve new locations,” Carr said.

Nelson and Carr said they are working to ensure everyone in the county has broadband access, including areas that are not within the VATI grant service area, and encourage any resident who believes they are unserved and have not submitted a survey to visit the APBfiber.com website.

For more information, visit: connecthanover.com. All Points is currently hiring for a number of positions and encourages anyone interested to visit the APBfiber.com website for more information.

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