BEDFORD — Progress on a highly anticipated project to expand high-speed internet access to residents in Bedford County is “moving along nicely” despite concerns about delays, according to those involved with the project.
On Jan. 27, members of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors voiced concerns about a request from Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Towers to extend the deadline for completion to Aug. 14.
Rather than extending the project completion date during the Jan. 27 meeting the board voted to table it until it could review the contract with Blue Ridge Towers.
“We have people calling us every day,” District 3 Supervisor Charla Bansley said during the meeting. “They are not getting what they were promised.”
Last week, George Condyles, president of Mechanicsville-based The Atlantic Group of Companies, said the delay in procuring the land for three tower sites is what led to the request for the 96-business-day extension.
“Three of the sites in this project are located on land that is owned by the Bedford County Water Authority,” Condyles said. “We were working with them on procuring the properties and there were some land swaps between BCWA and the county that took some time that was not on the original timeline.”
Condyles said the delay in obtaining the three tower sites is “a small part of the bigger picture.”
“This project as a whole is actually 12 smaller projects,” Condyles said. “While they were working on obtaining those sites, Blue Ridge moved on to other areas so the project has continued to move forward as a whole. This project has a lot of moving parts and I think Blue Ridge has done a wonderful job keeping the project as a whole moving forward.”
In 2017, The Atlantic Group was contracted for $53,000 by Bedford County to conduct a study and provide a broadband network design for the county. Bedford supervisors since have approved a $3.5 million contract to install a 12-tower system capable of providing broadband coverage for about 95% of the county’s population.
Blue Ridge Towers is constructing 10 new towers at sites throughout the county, along with installing equipment on two existing towers. The new towers will be in the town of Bedford, Big Island, Boonsboro, Hardy, Huddleston, Wheat Valley Reservoir, Moneta and Thaxton. County-owned structures in Montvale and New London are being fitted with communications equipment.
Condyles said the foundations for nine of the towers have been laid and construction on two towers is complete.
Blue Ridge Towers President Anthony Smith was in Huddleston, where crews were constructing a third tower, on Wednesday.
“We are slinging steel,” Smith said Wednesday. “Depending on the weather, we might be moving to another tower later this week.”
In addition, Smith said Blue Ridge Towers has secured contracts with T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon to use two of the system’s towers, which will generate about $1.8 million in revenue for Bedford County.
Smith said because almost half of the funding for the $3.5 million project is coming from two state grants — a $1.04 million Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant from the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development and a $670,500 grant from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission — the contracts will “pretty much cover” the remainder of the cost, which came from the county’s capital reserve funds.
“I think one of the biggest accomplishments of this project is securing these tenants through their relationships with Blue Ridge Towers,” Smith said. “Before the project is completed, we will have secured revenue that will cover the county’s investment. That is pretty much unheard of for a project like this.”
Blue Ridge Towers, through its subsidiary, BRISCNET LLC, will be the wireless internet service provider on the tower system. The company also will install nearly 21 miles of fiber-optic cable and will manage and maintain the towers for the county. Bedford County will retain ownership of the towers and Blue Ridge will lease the towers for five years.
“We have jumped every hurdle we have encountered and have kept going,” Smith said. “This project is going extremely well.”
On Friday, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors issued a revised public notice, alerting residents to a specially called meeting at 5 p.m. today to discuss, among other matters, the vote on a contract extension request by Blue Ridge Towers. The meeting will be held in the Ground Floor Meeting Room of the Bedford County Administration Building at 122 East Main Street in Bedford.