BERRYVILLE — The Clarke County Board of Supervisors is seeking the General Assembly’s help to persuade private telecommunications companies to connect broadband to residents who need it.
But area legislators say it might be easier for those without high-speed internet service to work together to obtain it for themselves.
As a largely rural county with a small population, “we certainly don’t have the money to foot (the bill for) the infrastructure,” supervisors Chairman David Weiss told state legislators during a recent meeting to discuss the board’s legislative priorities for the 2021 General Assembly session.
Outside of Berryville and Boyce, the county’s two incorporated communities, many areas of Clarke lack high-speed internet. The county has established a Broadband Implementation Committee to find affordable ways to expand the service.
Having high-speed internet has become a necessity, said Weiss, the Buckmarsh District supervisor. For instance, students need it to do schoolwork at home because the coronavirus pandemic has schools operating on a modified schedule. Clarke County Public Schools has identified about 200 students comprising about 120 households who don’t have internet access.
In a joint project with Comcast, the county obtained a $209,513 grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative to extend broadband to about 100 households in the White Post area.
Still, “we’ve got a lot of people” in the district who live far from broadband connections, said White Post District Supervisor Bev McKay. He mentioned that he lives 1½ miles from the nearest broadband cable.
The three state lawmakers who represent the county — Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville; Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, and Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton — sympathized with the county’s need for broadband service.
Vogel agreed that broadband is vital in today’s world.
“For my family, internet is more important than oxygen and water,” said Vogel.
When people move to the area, she said, “the first thing they say is, ‘Where’s my broadband?’ Then they get super mad” to find out it’s not available where they live.
Many companies are reluctant to extend broadband to areas with few people because they may have a hard time recovering their costs, according to Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton.
Clarke has about 14,500 residents.
LaRock said residents in specific areas could hire a contractor and share in the cost of having broadband provided to them.
Neighbors could “get out there with their Ditch Witch” and dig a trench in which a cable can be buried, Vogel said, referring to a company that makes trenching equipment.
She acknowledged, though, that digging trenches is expensive.
That’s a good idea, said Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Boyce, but “it only will work for people with money to spend.”
Vogel predicted that technology eventually will be developed that makes it easier for people to obtain broadband affordably.
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