By Logan Hendrix
High-speed Internet is within reach to more Rockbridge area residents after the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors approved a joint loan with Lexington and Buena Vista to help to the Rockbridge Area Network Authority.
The loan will help RANA expand its four-year-old project to provide broadband Internet to much of Rockbridge County and the cities of Lexington and Buena Vista.
The RANA network covers about 60 square miles of the Rockbridge area. RANA was originally hoping to cover twice that area, but had to scale back because of financial limitations. The loan will help RANA create more fiber optic connections, or drops, to increase coverage in the Rockbridge area.
A drop, also called a hookup, is the physical base to which houses can connect to the optic fiber and receive services.
RANA received $100,000 for operations and $150,000 for hookups through the loan. The county’s share was $55,000 for operations and more than $80,000 for hookups.
Supervisor David Hinty was the lone supervisor to vote against the loan request.
“I wasn’t against the project,” Hinty said. “It was just a money value. I wanted to bring down RANA’s $150,000 request for future hookups down to $100,000.”
Lexington and Buena Vista city councils had earlier approved their shares of the loan. The $10 million project, started in 2009, has been funded mostly by a $7 million federal grant.
RANA’s customers are Internet service providers that buy bandwidth from RANA and then re-sell it to local businesses and residents.
Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter says the loan will not only help extend the “backbone” of the RANA network with new drops, but it will also cut the costs an Internet service provider would have to pay upfront to have drops built.
“RANA doesn’t really have a big pot of money to pull from so they’re in the position where if somebody came and asked for service, the customer would have to pay all the installation costs upfront. And in a lot of cases, it was just too much money,” Suter said.
“The new drops that this connection line of credit will establish will increase the number of businesses and residents that are using the RANA network. And the more they use it the more ‘profit’ RANA can generate and pay its loans back and at the same time generate a capital reserve to front some money to allow the customer to pay over time.”
Supervisor John Higgins says RANA is moving out of its initial phase of construction into the final phase.
“The project of actually putting the hardwire throughout the county which is the fiber itself is a project that I think they’re just closing the loan on,” Higgins said.
“Now we’re worried about the second phase, which is getting customers to hook up and making the business run well.”
Read past Rockbridge Report coverage of RANA: