Grant to provide high-speed internet for 60 families in Dickenson County

Bristol Herald Courier

High-speed Internet access got a boost this week in Dickinson County as a grant of up to $144,000 from the Virginia Caulfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) The Dickinson County Telehealth and Education Access Fund was awarded to the Dickinson County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) for use in financing the purchase of space broadband in low Earth orbit for underserved and/or underserved children in Dickinson County.

The project will provide high-speed internet access to an additional 60 families, to include 97 school-aged children. Potential benefits of the project include enhanced educational opportunities for students, expanded wellness treatment, enhanced workforce education, and opportunities for remote workers.

“The grant will be used to take care of hardware expenses, wiring, and subscriptions for two years for each household it serves, as requested by the Dickinson County Industrial Development Authority,” said Jonathan Pilcher, executive director/general counsel of VCEDA. “Ultimately, the grant expands access to telehealth and education in Dickinson County.”

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The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors approved a county match of $96,000 against the total cost of $240,000 for providing access to 60 accounts. Upon expiration of the two-year subscription offered through VCEDA Scholarship and District Match, individual account holders will be responsible for continued service, unless other support mechanisms can be found, note application.

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“The Dickinson County Industrial Development Authority is pleased to be part of the process of providing additional high-speed Internet access to the citizens of Dickinson County,” said Dana Cronkite, Dickinson County Executive Director, IDA. “We share the Board of Supervisors’ feeling that access to high-speed Internet is critical to the future success and economic development of our community. We are grateful to programs such as the VCEDA Education and Telehealth Access Fund that focus on ensuring that our students have the access necessary to succeed in their educational programs.”

VCEDA has allocated $500,000 in Virginia’s budget for fiscal year 2023 and $500,000 in fiscal year 2024 “for initiatives aimed at expanding access to telehealth and education and services.” VCEDA also received $500,000 for this purpose in fiscal year 2022.

The VCEDA Board of Directors adopted formal policies for managing funds received from the state in 2021 when it formed the VCEDA Telehealth and Education Access Fund. In fiscal year 2022, an application from the Appalachian Council for Innovation (ACI) was approved by the VCEDA Board for a project to provide Starlink satellite Internet service in low Earth orbit to underserved and/or underserved children in a VCEDA footprint. This project was implemented by ACI in conjunction with several local school districts, providing 724 children with total access to Starlink, including connections made possible by enhanced funding from participating localities in Dickinson, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties, according to to the latest report from ACI.

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Discussions regarding the funding VCEDA received in fiscal year 2023 has led several province industrial development agencies to express interest in applying for funding for Starlink projects in their jurisdictions.

At a meeting of the VCEDA Board of Directors on September 15, 2022, the VCEDA Board of Directors approved a request from Wise County IDA for up to $232,500 in fiscal year 2023 for telehealth and education funds, in order to provide Starlink service to 94 additional homes in Wise County. .

Dickinson County IDA has requested up to $144,000 in fiscal year 2023 to fund access to education and telehealth. In its request, the Dickinson County IDA noted that the county has identified 290 households and 323 students with either no Internet access, or no Internet access capable of supporting streaming for online learning.

“I am grateful that Starlink was available to our county,” said Dickinson County Board of Supervisors Chair Peggy Kaiser. “I have supported them in their efforts to bring internet to the underprivileged in our county. We hope they are available to help more homes and families in our community.”

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Josh Evans, vice chair of the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors/Willis County Supervisor, noted that since his campaign for office and even before his term began in 2020, high-speed internet access has been one of his priorities.

“Honestly, the lack of high-speed Internet access has been and continues to be an obstacle to growth and service in Dickinson County,” Evans said. However, our board and management have shown steadfastness and commitment to getting high speed internet access for our homes and families. This announcement represents a major step forward in that commitment. Sixty families with school-aged children have already been identified and will be delivered in early 2023. I cannot thank the Board and District Manager Larry Barton enough for sharing our vision for this. I also want to specifically thank Jack Kennedy for his help and support. His guidance through this in connecting our families has been a tremendous asset to us.”

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