An effort to enhance access to high-speed internet in Franklin County is moving forward. The Franklin County Broadband Authority authorized a request for proposals for a broadband consultant during a meeting Sept. 18.

The consultant will develop a broadband deployment plan that would identify the county’s current needs, the methods by which high-speed internet service could be extended in the county, and preliminary cost estimates as well as a timeline to meet designated goals.

The Franklin County Broadband Authority, which was created in 2017, gives the county flexibility, not only to enter into partnerships with private companies and other broadband authorities, but also to take on debt for broadband-related projects. Currently, the authority is comprised of the seven members of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.

The need for a broadband authority was warranted because, “we had a lot of people who said we need more broadband access in the county,” said Steve Sandy, Franklin County director of planning and development, in an interview.

A survey issued in 2017 determined that 20 percent of Franklin County households have no internet service, and there are a significant number of households that have internet access that is either expensive or unreliable.

In some localities, a broadband authority serves as an internet provider. Currently, the Franklin County Broadband Authority is not interested in being a broadband provider, Sandy said. Instead, the authority encourages partnerships with other entities, such as broadband authorities and commercial internet providers, and to seek funding opportunities, such as grants.

One such partnership could occur with the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, a joint venture between Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Botetourt County.

At its meeting last week, the Franklin County Broadband Authority was presented with a teaming agreement between it and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. No action was taken on the item, and the agreement is set to appear before the Franklin County Broadband Authority for approval at a later date.

According to the teaming agreement, the two broadband authorities could work together to identify “strategic locations” from which fiber optic cable can be deployed to serve Franklin County customers.

As of this time, no specific project has been identified, Sandy said.

The county budgeted $75,000 in the current fiscal year budget for broadband-related projects.

Franklin County has applied for a $30,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to offset the cost of hiring a consultant.

The county believes there’s not a single solution to meeting all of the internet needs in the locality, Sandy said.

“There’s a lot discussion about broadband,” Sandy said during the meeting. “Not sure that anybody has the crystal ball on what the right solution is … And I think from what I’ve seen and what our staff group has seen is that there are probably different solutions in different places, and multiple partners is probably the most effective way to get there.”

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