photo_ft_news_broadband_tower 5_070319.jpg

The Goldvein tower, located on Blackwell’s Mill Road, now offers Data Stream Technology, paid for by the county and a grant from the PATH Foundation. 

The Fauquier Board of Supervisors on Thursday agreed to negotiate a comprehensive agreement for broadband expansion with Data Stream Technologies Inc.

The final form of the comprehensive agreement will be subject to a public hearing before supervisors vote on it. The date of that hearing and vote is yet to be determined.

“We’re a long way away from a final agreement,” Cedar Run Supervisor Rick Gerhardt said after an afternoon work session on the issue.

Data Stream, formerly Omnipoint of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Tenebris Fiber LLC, of Springfield, Virginia, submitted Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act proposals to provide broadband service to the county. The PPEA allows public bodies to partner with private entities and encourages innovative financing approaches.

Tenebris Fiber is now out of the running for consideration. “Tenebris doesn’t meet the bar as far as I was concerned,” Gerhardt said after a closed-door discussion with their attorney. (The closed discussion is allowed under state law if the board’s bargaining position or strategy would be affected by a public airing.)

Both proposals were previously reviewed by the deputy county administrator, procurement manager, IT director, county finance director and the county’s broadband consultant. Data Stream takes a tower-based approach while Tenebris emphasizes fiber.

The county already has a working relationship with Data Stream. Over the past two years, the county, along with the Economic Development Authority and the PATH Foundation, worked with Data Stream to use financial incentives to get providers to place equipment on towers. It will continue that effort, following a “parallel track” separate from the comprehensive agreement, Gerhardt said.

“One vendor has done a pretty good job. Data Stream is operational now. It has strong financials. It’s on the Casanova tower and I’ve been getting great feedback. It’s got the capital to get two to three crews to Fauquier in a relatively short time” – within four weeks, Gerhardt said. “I have a lot of confidence in their abilities.”

“We can begin almost immediately and by year’s end we could be up and running,” Gerhardt said.

Yet he didn’t rule out working with others.

“If anybody wants to come with us with an idea, we’ll listen,” Gerhardt said.

The comprehensive agreement

In authorizing County Administrator Paul McCulla to proceed with negotiating a comprehensive agreement, the board also approved a $2.6 million package of new incentives to get broadband providers to quickly add equipment to existing structures -- including water towers.

The package would provide subsidies of up to $150,000 for equipment on 15 towers and rent subsidies of up $18,000 a year for two years. The idea is to get new broadband service from up to 10 locations.

The county’s expenditures would be offset by charging new broadband customers subscriber fees, Gerhardt said. A $10 monthly fee paid by 2,000 subscribers would yield a $240,000 annual payback to the county; a $15 fee would generate $360,000.

Tower locations

Data Stream currently has sites operating in Casanova, Goldvein and Ensor Shop Road in Midland.

Within 45 days of an agreement, the company could establish service in Calverton, Catlett, Lover’s Lane in Marshall and Cromwell Road. Talks are underway with the town of Warrenton to put an antenna on the town’s water tower.

photo_ft_news_casanova tower 1.jpg
Data Streams internet service is currently available from a tower on Casanova Road in Casanova. It serves 65 people. 

 

By year’s end there could be service using the Fauquier Water and Sanitation Authority’s water tower in Bealeton, a structure at the Luck Stone plant, one on the Remington water tower and two private locations with structures.

The Marshall District will be served by a tower in Hume and existing cell tower structures at Bellevue.

The Scott District would be served by new providers on WSA structures and existing cell tower structures.

The Cedar Run District would be served from a Cromwell Road location.

Moving forward

“I’ve got the least skin in the game,” said Supervisor Chris Granger, who represents the Center District, including Warrenton, where internet and cell phone service is more available than elsewhere. “I don’t see anything to detract from it. There may not be a fiber solution in some areas.”

“This does give us the opportunity to see how it works,” said Marshall District Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel. She noted any service provider will be able to apply for space on the towers and other structures.

Lee District Supervisor Chris Butler said, “I do support it. A lot of folks have been begging for us to do something.”

Scott District Supervisor Holder Trumbo was absent from the afternoon work session but was present for the evening meeting and voted with the others to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

Gerhardt took issue with a headline in the Aug. 7 Fauquier Times that said the supervisors had put off a public hearing originally planned for Aug. 8. That hearing was never formally scheduled, although county officials said last month it was expected to take place Aug. 8.

“We’re being accused of punting again,” which is far from the case, said Gerhardt.

Gerhardt has been the board’s lead advocate for expansion of broadband service since his election nearly four years ago.

Reach James Ivancic at jivancic@fauquier.com. Christopher Connell is a reporter with the Piedmont Journalism Foundation.

(3) comments

Tom Frederick

Is there any projected date for Catlett to come online? What is the necessary equipment once service is available?

Ike Miller

We have been serviced by the Casanova Tower DataStream installation for several months now. As a early user of this service, I can state with certainty that We reliably enjoy 24+ mbps! At $30+ per month with NO data cap or speed reductions, NO other option even comes close to that level of speed for the money. I have used satellite dishes and hotspots in the past - data caps and spotty, expensive service caused me to abandon both of those poor options.



As our supervisor and a champion of solving the digital connectivity dilemma in this county, Rick Gerhardt has worked tirelessly to move this project forward, even with naysayers who have no clue of the complexity of the system, the excellent data throughput provided and the challenging public / private partnership negotiations which must produce a “win” for both the County taxpayers and DataStream. The “boots on the ground” that DataStream, (or any other high speed data purveyor) must provide I am certain add significantly to the costs of deployment. Even with the County’s investment in tower equipment, (which includes a sensible model for recouping its investment) DataStream will need to eventually see a path to profitability for this venture to be worth the time, money and manpower the company must invest to make this venture profitable in years to come.



Every time I have called Mr. Gerhardt about the process, service and deployment goals, he has been both transparent and informative in his responses. It is indeed sensible to craft the absolute fairest and best “deal” with DataStream PRIOR to any public hearing. That process ensures the ability to negotiate the financial, deployment and support metrics and put all of the necessary details in the final agreement BEFORE a public hearing and time for comment.



The current BoS has before it one of the most challenging and critical negotiations regarding the County’s welfare that I have seen in my lifetime in Fauquier. Effective, reliable high-speed internet access for County taxpayers will increase property values, encourage younger residents to consider living here, allow for state of the art technology for home security, home based-businesses and telecommuting and most important, allow school students and parents to use the internet as a gateway to a nearly limitless body of knowledge and information.



Indeed, the investment in even MORE capital, (with a path for repayment of taxpayers money) may be necessary to shore up the manpower costs for DataStream, or any other provider. Tie these investments to tangible service deployment requirements and system support response times, and get this solution deployed as quickly as possible. Every school-aged student that goes through an additional semester without internet service is an educational window that can NEVER be recaptured.



Contact your Supervisor, encourage them to continue their challenging work in this project, support the current and additional expenditures and monetary investments to make this deployment a success for all of those involved. As a system user, I can share with certainty that the connectivity results are worth every penny.

FarmerRoy

The first picture is the Goldvein tower but it's located on Rivenoak Lane not Blackwells Mill Road

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