RiverStreet Networks will connect more Pittsylvania County homes to the internet through 2022.
CHATHAM – If you listen closely in Pittsylvania County, you can hear the crickets chirping. And that might be the only thing you hear for a while, as your YouTube video slowly loads or your Zoom meeting buffers.
That’s because in Pittsylvania County, broadband connectivity and accessibility is still an issue for many households.
Over the next year, a company just south of the Virginia border hopes to change that.
RiverStreet Networks began as an extension of Wilkes Communications in Wilkes County, North Carolina. For more than 60 years, the company focused on its own area, providing telecommunications services to households in its home county.
Now, they’re on a mission to expand high-speed internet across rural America. One of those locations is Pittsylvania County, separated by approximately 150 miles.
Over the next two years, the company plans to host 18 towers, providing service to nearly 9,400 locations.
David Smitherman, Pittsylvania County Administrator, noted that the North Carolina-based company provided services to Virginians prior to the newest announcement.
“They already have a presence here in our county,” Smitherman said. “They purchased a former telephone cooperative in the north end of our county. And they received a significant grant through the Federal Communications Commission and are leveraging that to provide fiber to the homes in the northern half of our county – or the northern third of our county, I should say.”
An additional grant opportunity through the FCC – the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – could benefit county residents still awaiting reliable broadband services.
“They are working to provide similar access in the southern part of the county,” Smitherman said. “In the interim, they are making further investments in the wireless technology that they have deployed on [five] towers currently.”
The Particulars For Pittsylvania County
RiverStreet Networks laid out the particulars about the Virginia project on its company website. The county also issued a press release, containing information about the broadband expansion.
Funding from the Connect America Fund and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, along with an investment from Pittsylvania County, will support the construction of a fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless network.
Five towers are ready for service. They are located in Grit, Callands, Mt. Airy, White Oak and Kentuck. RiverStreet Networks can already service customers in those five areas with fixed wireless internet service. That’s a type of internet service where transmitters send and receive internet signals from one point to another.
Smitherman noted that the current options operate off of existing E-911 towers.
The company will complete construction on the remaining 13 towers next year, thanks in part to a $1 million investment from Pittsylvania County.
Work on the fiber-to-the-home network will begin in 2022, according to the current project schedule.
“The partnership between Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks represents a significant first step in our plan to provide broadband access for residents, education, healthcare and government organizations across Pittsylvania County,” the RiverStreet Networks website read. “The new partnership between RiverStreet Networks and Pittsylvania County will provide customers with high-speed, reliable, broadband service.”
“It’s Beyond Time”
Even with the expanded partnership opportunities, the venture still left many county residents unserved.
“We’re still going to have people in the extreme east and southeast, as well as the western portions of our county that are not going to be served with this project,” Smitherman said. “But we’re working on other opportunities to get the signal to them also.”
“It’s absolutely a necessity for commerce and for education,” Smitherman said. “And it’s imperative that our county facilitate every opportunity available for our citizens to access internet services.”
However, expanding broadband to as much of the county as possible – and as quickly as possible – couldn’t happen soon enough.
“Oh, it’s beyond time. This should have been done years ago. Absolutely,” Smitherman said. “But what people don’t understand is the outrageous investment that private companies must make to provide internet service. And without the assistance of external resources such as the FCC and the state of Virginia, the resources just aren’t available to make it economical in a vastly rural county, like Pittsylvania County.”
By the end of next year, nearly 10,000 locations across the county could have internet accessibility for the first time, due to the expansion.
The administrator noted what that could mean for county residents.
“Well, it certainly puts us on an equal playing field with the rest of the state and beyond,” Smitherman said. “It opens opportunities for economic development, as well as for our [kindergarten] through [12th grade] schools, to provide remote learning.”
In addition to the new expansion, the country still plans to source opportunities for others currently ineligible for internet services.
“It is a painful process. There are no silver bullets,” Smitherman said. “It requires patience and an understanding that the county is doing everything it can to leverage every available asset and resource to get reliable high-speed internet to all of our citizens.”
As part of a strategic plan adopted in 2019, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors set a goal to provide broadband availability to 90% of county residents by 2024.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]