Commissioners approve broadband grant

By Nicholas Elmes -

Stokes County Commissioners have unanimously approved a plan to create a new county based grant program to encourage the expansion of high speed internet services throughout the county.

Under the plan the county will issue a request for proposals to licensed broadband providers to expand service to un-served areas of the county.

If an appropriate provider is identified the county would then offer grant funding for up to 20 percent of the project cost, with the exact amount of funding being determined by the scope of the planned work. Under the plan, the grant funding would be provided during the initial three years of the project and follow-up phases after the first five years of the project would be funded solely by the provider.

County Manager Rick Morris said the county had just recently discovered a state statue which would allow them to provide the grant funding.

One company, RiverStreet Networks, is already in the process of providing new service to un-served and under-served customers in the county. The first phase of their build out, a $4.5 million investment to build the main backbone of the system is expected to be completed by July. A second phase, estimated to cost $2 million, would build taps off of the primary backbone to serve two under-served areas in Stokes County that lie northeast and northwest of Danbury. The final phase of the build out is expected to cost $3 million.

Morris said RiverStreet Networks would be eligible to apply for the grant funding even though their project is already under way.

“Anyone can apply,” he said, noting that the new grant program was intended to make sure the county succeeded in expanding broadband. “We are trying to maximize internet connectivity in Stokes County to set us apart from other rural counties. This is a new project though . It is open to everybody and is straight by the statute.

“The whole idea is we need broadband everywhere,” he added. “It affects education, it affects economic development. It is the biggest thing I have ever dealt with as far as the positive impact it will have in the county. I could not rate anything else as more important right now. It is a once in the lifetime opportunity.”

Funding for the grant program would come from the county general fund, but Morris said he was not sure what impact the grant may have on the county budget.

“I have not gotten that far along mainly because of the changes in the sales tax law with the additional $1.5 million,” he said. “We have not decided what estimate on the sales tax we are going to go with. A lot of times we do not go by state estimates because we do not think they are conservative enough. That will play into it. We really don’t know about a tax rate increase at this point. It is too early in the process.”

He estimated proposals for funding would be due by early March.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

By Nicholas Elmes

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