BEDFORD — Plans to expand high-speed internet access to residents in Bedford County could move forward following a vote later this month by the Bedford County Board of Supervisors to approve a contract with a Roanoke-based wireless communications company to construct nine new towers throughout the county and upgrade two existing towers.
During its Sept. 24 meeting, the Bedford County Broadband Authority — made up of the seven members of the Board of Supervisors — authorized county staff to enter into contract negotiations with Blue Ridge Towers for the estimated $3 million project to improve the county’s broadband infrastructure. Bedford County Administrator Carl Boggess on Wednesday said staff is working on the contract and will submit it to the board of supervisors for consideration during its Oct. 24 meeting.
“This is an extremely big deal for the county,” Boggess said. “This is the highest priority of the board of supervisors which makes it my highest priority. We are really excited to get started on this.”
Blue Ridge Towers has proposed placing nine new towers in Big Island, Bedford, Boonsboro, Thaxton, Hardy, Moneta and Huddleston. Equipment would be installed on two existing county-owned structures in Montvale and New London to build out the 11-site system.
Boggess said the project is expected to take about nine months to complete.
“It could be sooner than that if some of the site work is done soon,” Boggess said.
Blue Ridge Towers was one of four companies that responded to the county’s Request for Proposals (RFP) issued in May. A selection committee that included supervisors Edgar Tuck and Andy Dooley, Broadband Advisory Committee Chairman Allen Boaz, George Condyles — a consultant with Mechanicsville-based The Atlantic Group — and Bedford County’s Chief Information Officer Jeff Marecic recommended Blue Ridge Towers to the board.
“The reason I liked Blue Ridge Towers is because they can get the towers built and the fiber in where it needs to go and can also perform as the wireless internet service provider for the project,” Boaz said. “They will also manage these towers so the county doesn’t have to hire someone to do the day-to-day management work.”
Calls to Blue Ridge Towers from The News & Advance seeking comment about the project were not immediately returned.
Boggess said construction of the towers is expected to begin soon after the board of supervisors approves a contract.
“The sooner the better,” Boggess said. “This is something the county has been taking about since 2016.”
In 2017, The Atlantic Group was contracted for $53,000 by Bedford County to conduct a study and provide a network design for the county. The plan outlined in the study is an 11-site system that would provide about 95 percent broadband coverage throughout Bedford County.
Boggess said the top priority for the county is to provide internet access to students in Bedford County schools.
“The kids are our top priority and I know the schools will be thrilled when these towers are up and running,” Boggess said. “The second highest priority is to small businesses in the county and to people who want to work from home. However, we are excited to be able to provide all of our residents with good internet access.”