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Albemarle broadband project continues to experience delays

A project aimed at expanding internet access to 1,600 homes and businesses in underserved areas of rural Albemarle County continues to experience delays because of supply chain issues.

CenturyLink/Lumen Technologies service was expected to be launched in five of the 10 project areas by the end of March. So far, three have received service and three other areas are delayed.

A representative with the company said at a monthly virtual project informational meeting Friday that despite ordering supplies “quite well in advance,” some vendors are only sending partial shipments of equipment needed to complete the service connections.

“As plastics and materials like steel and other items are becoming delayed, it’s starting to put a backlog into the supply chain,” said Trish Stipanovich with Lumen. “We do have delays. We’re trying to work quickly to resolve those.”

The Albemarle Broadband Authority, in partnership with CenturyLink/Lumen, received a $2.3 million grant from the state for the project through its 2021 Virginia Telecommunications Initiative program, which is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The areas covered in the project include Jones Mill Road; Advance Mills and Frays Mill; Old Garth Heights; Milton Hills; Tilman Road and Meriweather Hill; Gilbert Station Road; Box Holly, Taylors Gap and Rosemont; Snow Hill Lane; Stony Point; and Campbell and Cobham.

At earlier project information meetings, early launch areas were delayed. This week, Snow Hill Lane, Gilbert Station Road and Advance Mills and Frays Mill were all delayed.

CenturyLink in 2020 announced it was changing its name to Lumen Technologies. The CenturyLink name is still being used for phone and high-speed internet services primarily served by copper cables. The company has developed a new product called Quantum Fiber, which is what VATI 2021 project customers will receive.

VATI 2021 guidelines require that construction be completed 18 months after a contract is executed, which for the project in Albemarle is Dec. 5, said Mike Culp, the director of Albemarle’s Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office. Residents can still purchase service after completion, which could take additional time.

In the 2020 VATI program, the Albemarle Broadband Authority and CenturyLink received a nearly $300,000 grant to extend fiber-broadband service to more than 800 residents. That project was delayed due to weather and staffing issues and received two extensions from DHCD. It was completed almost six months late.

“There was some grace given on the 2020 [project], and it was the first fiber project that they did at a large scale in Albemarle,” Culp said.

Culp said if Lumen requests a delay for the 2021 project, DHCD would review that request and then either authorize it or say that Albemarle and Lumen have to put together a corrective action plan.

“So if things really go awry and we see additional delays, etc., we’ll have to put together a corrective action plan as partners to convince the DHCD that we’re going to get back on schedule,” he said.

Community members on the call asked if Lumen has plans to further delay other project areas that are scheduled later in the year.

“That’s not our goal here,” Stipanovich said. “Our goal is to stay as true to the timeline that we originally committed to and as such we continue to put those pressures back on our procurement, our vendors, and look for solutions so that we can keep holding to the timeline that we created.”

For more information on the project, visit the county’s broadband office VATI 2021 webpage at: bit.ly/3DzxQo8.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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