The Stokes County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $1.8 million grant on Monday to help RiverStreet Networks expand high speed internet connectivity in the county.
Funding for the grant will be budgeted in the 2016-17 budget and disbursed in three equal payments to the company over the next three years, according to a letter of intent approved by the board Monday.
County Manager Rick Morris said that without RiverStreet’s efforts to expand service in the county the likelihood of the county receiving expanded high speed internet in the majority of unserved areas was not envisioned for decades, if ever.
He said the initial plan to expand the services had depended on the company’s ability to win the business of the county school system, the hospital and the county government.
“These entities would then be leveraged to expand connectivity to unserved and underserved residents of the county, especially students who are at a great disadvantage in today’s virtual learning environment without adequate Internet connectivity,” said Morris. He said that plan was not accomplished because RiverStreet was not able to gain the business of the school system nor the hospital due to other factors. “Even with these setbacks to the original business plan, RiverStreet Networks remained committed to the project which has evolved to approximately $13 million in cost for the initial thee to five year phases of the project.”
Morris said delays, increased costs of materials and challenging rocky terrain had pushed the initial estimated cost of the project up by 30 percent.
“Even with this overrun, RiverStreet Networks remained committed to the project and is borrowing funds when required to keep the project on schedule and not reduce the project’s scope,” said Morris. “It should be clear to everyone concerned that the $1.8 million level of county grant funding recommended to support the RiverStreet Networks project is not excessive and clearly meets the criteria specified in the County’s request for proposals. It is difficult to envision, in today’s virtual world, where the county could realize a greater economic development and educational return on its investment than this partnership with RiverStreet Networks to expand high speed internet and broadband availability in Stokes County.”
He added that the grant would cover about half of the overrun in the projected project cost.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.