By Christine Luby
Higher-than-expected construction bids on Rockbridge County’s fiber-optic network mean that 30 percent of property owners will not receive broadband Internet anytime soon.
On a 5-0 vote, the Board of Supervisors awarded a contract Monday to Rohl Networks for $2.8 million. But the contract drops certain routes from the original plan, meaning that Effinger, Walkers Creek and Rockbridge Baths will not get service, although the fire departments serving those areas will still be covered.
The need to drop routes from the original plan was not entirely unexpected. The Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA) would need another $2 million to cover the entire county, as originally planned, according to County Administrator Robert Claytor.
“Several months ago, it became obvious to the RANA board there would not be adequate funds to construct the entire route,” Claytor said.
Goshen was dropped early on in the hopes of covering more important areas. However, bids were still much higher than expected.
Under the new contract, all Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County schools will be covered.
“Businesses, hospitals, schools — those are the things that need fiber,” Claytor said.
Another obstacle for the broadband network that is a number of property owners have not yet granted easements for the fiber lines. The easements that have been received at this point will do limited good.
“Over half are on roads that won’t be getting fiber,” said Board Member Russell “Rusty” Ford. “Still, we’re glad to get ’em when we got ’em.”
But board members are not entirely satisfied with the current developments.
“We promised the far reaches,” Board Member Albert “Buster” Lewis said, referring to the original promise to cover all of Rockbridge County. “We are at great risk of losing faith over what we said we were going to do. It hurts us country boys.”
At this point, 11,000 homes and businesses are set to receive the fiber network.
“We’re still keeping faith with the rest of the county that we’re not going to leave anybody out,” Ford said.
Claytor pointed out that the citizens who are left out of broadband will not be overlooked.
According to the current contract, digital subscriber line boxes will be made available in those areas in an effort to solve the problem.
“I can understand that DSL, if it works, can offer a great deal to help us recover a little bit,” Lewis said.
Although he is still a proponent of sticking to the original promise, Lewis supported the current contract.
“It would be foolish of me or anyone else not to support what we’ve got, because it’s a step in the right direction,” Lewis said. “A fiber network in this county is going to put us beautifully in the 21st century.”