Grants from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative to Enhance Connectivity in Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig Counties

ROANOKE, VA, July 14, 2021 – The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) announced today that it is calling on internet service providers (ISPs) and regional localities to work together with its support on applications for grant funding that would expand broadband internet services throughout rural areas of Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig Counties.

More than $49 million in competitive grants are being offered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to extend broadband service to unserved and under-served areas like these throughout the commonwealth. The RVBA hopes to maximize the grants awarded in the Roanoke Valley by coordinating a cooperative effort between service providers and the localities.

“The RVBA exists to support the growth and expansion of broadband across the Valley. Fostering cooperation between Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig counties and the ISPs operating in these regions will yield greater grant awards that will lead to more connectivity,” said Frank Smith, President and CEO, RVBA. “These localities have made significant investments and seen tremendous growth over the past several years, but the work is far from complete, and they cannot do it alone. We hope service providers will respond and work collaboratively with the localities to apply for these grants that will benefit local citizens, local businesses and the overall economic vitality of the region for decades to come.”

Through its leadership role in working with its member localities, the RVBA will serve as a central coordination point for service providers to partner with its member localities in support of VATI applications, taking a cooperative approach to addressing the needs of the unserved and under-served in the Valley.

Increasing Broadband Access

Despite its prevalence in urban and suburban areas, there is a significant lack of high-speed internet access in outlying rural areas of Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig Counties. This prevents many residents from engaging in opportunities like telehealth, distance learning and remote work that the COVID-19 pandemic has made commonplace; significantly limits business communications and data technology; and hampers further economic development. In Roanoke County, for instance, more than 30% of households are considered unserved or under-served by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) minimum standards according to a 2019-2020 broadband availability study.

“Roanoke County places a high priority on getting high-speed broadband to as many houses and businesses as possible and our ultimate goal is ‘universal coverage’ throughout the County. This is crucial for economic development, distance learning and telemedicine. Working regionally through the RVBA to define and solicit projects is the best way to provide ‘universal coverage,’” said Dan O’Donnell, Roanoke County Administrator. “Our strategy is to combine federal, state, local and private provider funds to shape public-private partnerships that must be formed to successfully solve the rural broadband problem in our region. We look forward to working with the RVBA and local providers to obtain funding from the VATI grants as part of this.”

The situation is similar in Botetourt County where an estimated 20% of homes lack high-speed broadband access.

“We are pushing hard to reach 100% county-wide broadband connectivity because access, reliability and affordability is more important than ever,” said Gary Larrowe, Botetourt County Administrator. “We have been fortunate to have been awarded more than $2 million in prior VATI grants that is allowing us to extend broadband network services to more than 1,000 homes and businesses across the county, but we have more infrastructure to establish and homes and businesses to reach before we achieve our goal. We’ll be most successful when we can combine our efforts.”

Application Process

The RVBA will host a VATI Kick-Off Meeting at the RVBA office in downtown Roanoke on Wednesday, July 21 from 10:00am-noon for interested providers. During the meeting, attendees will discuss opportunities for partnership and cooperation. Participating localities will provide an overview of their desired VATI application targets and points of contact for service providers interested in partnering with them.

The RVBA will continue to coordinate application efforts according to the following timeline:

DHCD anticipates announcing VATI grant awards in December 2021.

About the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) is a regional partnership started by local business leaders and four regional localities, including The City of Salem, The City of Roanoke, Roanoke County and Botetourt County, to invest in the development of the region’s first open-access fiber-optic internet network. Focused on economic development, the RVBA seeks to increase enterprise broadband access, speed and capacity while driving down average end-user costs and reducing barriers to entry for innovative new companies wishing to invest in the region. It also operates an open-access high-speed fiber optic network that allows regional businesses, schools, libraries, and non-profits access to stable, enterprise-quality fiber internet and data transport services with unprecedented reliability, security and 100% transparency in pricing.

Roanoke, VA – Monday, April 26, 2021 – This week, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) is celebrating their milestone anniversary, marking five years of service to the Roanoke Valley.

Realizing much of its original vision ahead of schedule, the RVBA serves and supports businesses, government, education, healthcare, and other private internet service provider companies across the region. These customers all depend on the internet, transport, dark fiber, and colocation services offered for fast, secure, and reliable connectivity.

In five years of operation – RVBA has never lost a customer.

The non-traditional internet service provider has grown to operate more than 100 miles of open access communications infrastructure that traverses the four localities that make up the Roanoke Valley: The City of Salem, The City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, and Botetourt County.

The network footprint is now more than double the size of what was originally envisioned for the first six years of operation. The RVBA’s finances, which were originally supported with public bond contributions, have passed every annual third-party audit with accolades and are tracking ahead of original financial projections.

Five Years Serving the Roanoke Valley

On this date in 2016, the RVBA welcomed more than one hundred community leaders to an outdoor ceremony at Blue Ridge PBS to celebrate the official launch of the region’s first community owned fiber optic network. Blue Ridge PBS was the RVBA’s first official customer and the lighting of the initial 27-mile network marked a significant step towards a vision that had developed over several years prior and with the input and support of a wide variety of business leaders, government officials, and future focused technologists from across the region.

In five years, the RVBA has introduced both competition and cooperation to the region. It has helped to drive down costs, lowered barriers to market entry for new providers, and provided core infrastructure access to incumbent private internet service providers, so they too could more affordably extend their networks to reach new areas.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the RVBA was on the forefront of local planning, helping local governments plan and use State and Federal relief funding to deploy additional services to help critical customers in a critical moment.

Now, the RVBA is leading once again. At the last meeting, the RVBA Board of Directors voted to begin a new visioning process to help guide the future investments and priorities of the organization for the next five to ten years.

A Unique Economic Model

The RVBA is a political sub-division of the Commonwealth, which operates under the authority of the Virginia Wireless Authority Act of 2003. It was created with public investment and, by law, all fees charged to customers must go back into building, operating, maintaining, and expanding the public telecommunications infrastructure.

In this unique not-for-profit model, the telecommunications infrastructure operates a bit like a utility – prioritizing public needs over the private financial goals of individual business owners or company shareholders.

“Our model is still relatively rare nationwide, but we’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in and for our community. Still, there is much work to be done. Our focus is really on what happens next,” President and CEO Frank Smith said. “Now that we have this infrastructure, we’re better positioned to take advantage of new opportunities: Smart City applications, telehealth potential, residential deployment through last mile provider partnerships and more. We’re talking to a variety of partners and exploring new ways to leverage what we’ve built to unlock many new opportunities going forward.”

Envisioning The Next Five to Ten

In the last year, the RVBA added two new seats to its Board of Directors and appointed two new citizen representatives, both with significant technical expertise, to help guide the next generation visioning for the organization.

Dr. Scott Midkiff, Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Virginia Tech, and Keith Perry, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Carilion Clinic both officially joined Chairman Michael (Mike) McEvoy, Executive Director of the Western Virginia Water Authority, Vice Chairman Dan O’Donnell, County Administrator for Roanoke County, Jay Taliafarro, City Manager for the City of Salem, Gary Larrowe, County Administrator for Botetourt County, and Robert (Bob) Cowell, City Manager for the City of Roanoke on the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Board of Directors in the Fall of 2020.

“Five years ago, the community was both visionary and aggressive in what it hoped to accomplish. The Roanoke Valley was an early example of how communities could control their own economic destiny when it came to broadband acces, and we were recognized nationally in 2019 for our success. But I think the best part about this project is that it doesn’t have an expiration date,” RVBA Board Chairman Mike McEvoy said. “I firmly believe the greatest value from our efforts is yet to come. We’ve built the infrastructure and laid the groundwork, but now it becomes real, we get to use the tools we’ve developed to really position for future technical advancement.”

*To mark today’s milestone, the RVBA released an anniversary video that highlights the perspectives of a variety of local leaders who have watched the RVBA grow. In it, contributors talk about the RVBA’s impact and value, and where the organization should focus moving forward.

**Archive photos of the 2016 RVBA Network Lighting Ceremony are also available to the media upon request.