County considering internet grants

By Nicholas Elmes -

Two companies, RiverStreet Networks and Surry Telephone Membership Corporation (STMC), have applied for grant funding from Stokes County to expand high speed internet access in the county.

The Stokes County Board of Commissioners approved the grant program in January, agreeing to pay 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 RiverStreet Networks had submitted the winning proposal, but asked for permission to talk to STMC to see if the county might also have interest in entering into grant funding with the company to provide expanded service in the areas of the county they serve.

Morris said he would not have exact figures for how much funding the county would provide to RiverStreet Networks until the next commissioners meeting, but in it’s bid proposal RiverStreet Networks said it plans to spend $12.9 million dollars in its initial three to five year build out. Twenty percent, the maximum the county would pay, would be $2,580,000.

Morris said once a dollar amount was negotiated and approved by the commissioners, that amount would be budgeted in the 2016-17 fiscal budget and disbursed in three equal payments over a three year time period.

RiverStreet’s proposal calls for the installation of an active fiber-to-home network with data rates currently able to provide a 1 gigabit speed and the ability to advance that to 10 or 100 gigabit speeds in the future.

RiverStreet is proposing monthly rates for customers ranging from $45 for 25Mbps/5Mbps speeds to $105 for 100Mbps/10Mbps speeds.

In the proposal, RiverStreet underscored the influence local funding could have on the success of the project.

“Any commitment from a local funding source would significantly increase the success of the project as well as an expansion of the network throughout the county,” reads the proposal. “It is extremely difficult to build and operate networks in rural areas; it requires a true partnership and long-term commitment from all stake holders to realize the full potential and long-term success of the proposed project. This is one of the first projects of its kind being undertaken in the state of North Carolina.”

The company says the project will pass 574 structures in the county that currently do not have any broadband access.

STMC’s proposal noted that the company currently has 25 miles of fiber-to-home network installed in the county and hopes to expand that with an additional 30 miles in 2016.

“Our ultimate goal is to have our entire service area in Stokes County available for broadband speeds of 25/3Mbps,” reads the proposal. “This goal will be achieved over multiple years by continuing to plow fiber to the home and by installing more fiber fed access equipment which utilizes the existing twisted copper pair cable. The proposed fiber to the home construction within the Surry Telephone service area will pass approximately 1,200 structures.”

The proposal states that STMC is looking at a six year plan to extend fiber, requiring almost 100 miles of construction with a total cost of over $4,500,000. A twenty percent match from the county, if it decided to also provide a grant to STMC could cost up to $900,000.

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

By Nicholas Elmes