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Albemarle launches new broadband webpage, holds project meetings

Albemarle County’s Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office is holding monthly informational meetings to keep residents updated about a project that will make fiber-broadband service available to more than 1,600 homes and businesses.

The Albemarle Broadband Authority, in partnership with CenturyLink, received a $2.3 million grant from the state for the project through its 2021 Virginia Telecommunications Initiative program.

During the first meeting, held Friday over Zoom, residents asked questions about eligibility for service, cost and internet speed available. The next meeting will be held at noon Jan. 7 over Zoom, and information is available on the county’s new broadband webpage.

Many attendees’ addresses did not show up as eligible to sign up for the service, called Quantum Fiber, on the product website, Q.com, and they could also not sign up to be notified when they are deemed eligible.

Trish Stipanovich, CenturyLink’s manager for field operations for Virginia, said she would make sure that the notify button was working in the future.

The meeting was targeted to residents in the 10 communities included in the grant-covered area, which includes Jones Mill Road, Advance Mill and Fray Road, Old Garth Heights, Milton Hills, Tilman Road and Meriweather Hill, Box Holly Lane and Taylor’s Gap Road, Snow Hill Lane, Stony Point Road, Gilbert Station Road and Campbell and Cobham (Keswick).

Service is expected to be available first in the Jones Mill Road area starting Dec. 31. The last area expected to have service available is Stony Point Road, Campbell and Cobham, with a current estimated launch date of Oct.12.

“You’ll be able to pre-order the Quantum Fiber typically within 30 days of the launch date,” Stipanovich.

This project is the fifth time Albemarle has been awarded Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant funding but the first time it is doing monthly meetings.

“We have learned from our prior VATI applications and projects, and all of those learnings will be applied in our 2021 project,” said Mike Culp, the director of the county’s broadband office.

In 2020, also with CenturyLink, the Albemarle Broadband Authority received a nearly $300,000 grant to extend fiber-broadband service to more than 800 residents.

Construction of the 2020 grant project was completed in September. At a broadband authority meeting earlier this year, county staff said as of Sept. 1 only about 253 customers signed up and received service.

During and after the 2020 project, the authority and county staff received many emails and calls from community members who had questions about the project, problems getting service connected or with their service once connected. The project was also delayed due to weather and staffing issues.

Last year, CenturyLink 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, Stipanovich said, which is what VATI 2021 project customers will receive.

For the project, she said, the company will bore under driveways to bury the fiber if needed, and the company will be burying all the fiber — it will not go up on the powerlines.

Quantum Fiber currently has two offerings of speeds of up to 200 megabits per second and 940 megabits per second, currently costing $49 a month and $65 a month, respectively. Stipanovich said the speeds are symmetrical, meaning that each plan has are the same upload and download speed.

“I’m not sure we publish what we think is the minimum speed when we say that we have symmetrical service at 940 megabits per second,” she said, when asked about the minimum speeds. “We’re expecting that to be a full symmetrical service, so let me take that as a follow up and make sure we get an answer back.”

Existing CenturyLink fiber-broadband customers will also eventually be transitioned to Quantum, she said.

Earlier this year, Lumen announced it is selling much of its assets in Virginia and 19 other states to affiliates of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. In November, it was announced that a new company called Brightspeed will be home to the former Lumen assets, pending the sale.

“Currently that is still very early in the stages with state and federal process, in terms of the sale of those assets, and so right now, it’s really too early to say exactly what will happen at the customer level,” Stipanovich said when asked if Quantum customers will eventually transition to Brightspeed.

The office, which started earlier this year, also has a new webpage on the county’s website to keep residents informed about broadband projects and what low-cost internet options are available in the county.

Another project meeting will be held at noon Jan. 7 on Zoom. After each meeting, the presentations and videos of the session will be available on the Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office webpage.

To access the Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office webpage, visit bit.ly/3EyO4xv.

Questions can be directed to the county’s broadband office at (434) 296-5891 or baao@albemarle.org.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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