The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority has awarded $144,000 to the Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority to be used to finance low earth orbit space-based broadband to unserved and/or underserved children in Dickenson County.
The project will bring access to high-speed Internet to an additional 60 households, to include 97 school-aged children, through the Starlink internet service, VCEDA said in a release.
“The grant will be used to take care of the expenses of hardware, wiring and two-year subscriptions for each household served, according to the Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority application,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher in a statement.
The Dickenson County Board of Supervisors has approved a county match of $96,000 toward the overall $240,000 cost of providing access for the 60 accounts. Upon the conclusion of the two-year subscription being provided through the VCEDA grant and the county match, individual account holders will be responsible for ongoing service, unless other support mechanisms are found, the application noted.
VCEDA was appropriated $500,000 in the Virginia state budget for FY2023 and $500,000 in FY2024 “for initiatives intended to expand education and telehealth access.” VCEDA also received $500,000 for that purpose in FY 2022. The argument for satellite internet has been that traditional fiber-based internet is impractical in some rural areas.
The Dickenson grant is one in a series of grants VCEDA has made for Starlink service. Earlier, it partnered with the Appalachian Council for Innovation to provide satellite internet service through Starlink to 724 students in Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties. (See background story on satellite internet service in those counties, ‘Reaching for the stars.’)
Discussions concerning the funding being received by VCEDA in FY2023 resulted in several of the county industrial development authorities expressing a desire to apply for the funds for Starlink projects in their respective jurisdictions. At the September 15, 2022, VCEDA board meeting, the VCEDA Board approved an application from the Wise County IDA for up to $232,500 in FY2023 Education and Telehealth Access funds, in order to provide Starlink service to an additional 94 residences in Wise County.
The Dickenson County IDA submitted an application for up to $144,000 in FY2023 Education and Telehealth Access funds. In its application, the Dickenson County IDA noted the county has identified 290 households and 323 students who either do not have Internet access, or who do not have Internet access capable of supporting streaming for online learning.
“Bluntly speaking, lack of high speed Internet access has been and continues to be an obstacle to growth and service for Dickenson County,” said Dickenson County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Josh Evans in a statement. “However, our board and administration has shown fortitude and commitment to obtaining high speed Internet service to our homes and families. This announcement represents a huge step forward in this commitment. Sixty families with school-age children have already been identified and will be connected in early 2023. I can’t thank our board and county administrator Larry Barton enough for sharing our vision for this. I also want to specifically thank Jack Kennedy for his help and support. His guidance through this in connecting our families has been a tremendous asset to us.”
Kennedy is the clerk of court in Wise County who has been a longtime proponent of the Starlink internet service. (See background story on Kennedy, ‘Virginia’s most famous court clerk is retiring, eventually going to the moon.’)