Consultants chosen to assess broadband survey data, find gaps and propose plan

The New River Valley Regional Commission, Montgomery County and City of Radford ran a survey this spring and summer to locate gaps in affordable, speedy broadband. Offered online and paper, the survey was collected in boxes like the one. Now, those surveys are being evaluated.

Liz Kirchner

Montgomery County and the City of Radford are making progress to determine broadband gaps in the county and city.

From March to July, a partnership of the New River Valley Regional Commission, Montgomery County and the City of Radford used online and paper surveys to collect feedback from residents to gauge broadband coverage in the NRV.

This week, the city and county selected a proposal from Thompson and Litton, a consulting firm out of Wise with offices in Radford, to analyze those surveys, locating gaps in affordable, adequate broadband.

According to the Montgomery County press release, Thompson and Litton will collaborate with the regional telecommunications and broadband company, Blue Ridge Advisory Services, Inc.

Together, they’ll assess service area gaps, identify existing resources to fill them and then propose an overall plan.
The resulting report, due in early 2020, will also provide a cost analysis of the proposed projects, analyze cooperative projects.

“The broadband study underway will help identify local service areas, as well as any deficient or non-existent service,” said Radford City Manager David Ridpath. Broadband service and its reliability is important to education and economic development in our community and region. This initiative will look at both public and private providers, as well as current service and growth needs.”

By the end, the consultants will provide a sample public-private partnership RFP, a request for proposals, to help the municipalities launch a search for businesses that can do the work the analysis will propose.

“We will assist Montgomery County in the creation of an RFP to partner with an existing service provider at the end of the project,” said Eric Price, senior project manager and associate with Thompson and Litton.

While data is available online indicating that 84 percent of Montgomery County is covered by broadband, it can be misleading says Price.

“That data is based on self-reported information from service providers that don’t accurately reflect the real numbers. Part of what we are doing is getting a clear picture,” he said, to determine how much and where adequate, affordable broadband exists and where it doesn’t.

“Anecdotally, we know about places like Plum Creek and the Elliston/Shawsville area, as places with gaps in service or service that is too expensive,” said NRVRC Senior Planner Christy Straight who led the implementation of the survey this year. “We anticipate pockets [of inadequate coverage]. Some towns have options, but some places aren’t happy with their options. We saw that in an early survey: limited technology, like DSL, and cost as a barrier for some people,” she said. “A real mixed bag of services.”

The final report will be well timed for next steps said Montgomery County Public Information Director Jennifer T. Harris.

“We’ll receive the report, which will say ‘These are your gaps and these are some good ways to resolve the issues,’ and that report will go to the Board of Supervisors in early 2020 to consider the price tag. The timing is good since the budget has already been set for this fiscal year. The report will identify the issues and give us an idea about how much will it cost. Progress,” she said, “it’s a process.”