Broadband fiber. Courtesy of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority.

A $25 million federal grant will bring a “fiber-to-the-premises” network that will deliver high-speed internet to more than 17,000 residents and more than 1,000 businesses in Wise and Lee counties and the city of Norton, federal legislators announced Monday.

The money was awarded to the Scott County Telephone Cooperative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program and was funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, according to a joint news release from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, both Democrats, and releases by U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

News of the grant was released one day before a visit by Warner to Big Stone Gap, where he was set to announce a broadband grant, according to the schedule of his four-day swing through the state. Later in the day Monday, his office said he will celebrate the funding in Big Stone Gap along with Rural Utility Services Administrator Andrew Berke, members of the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission and community leaders.

“For almost two decades, dating all the way back to my time as governor, I have stressed the need for access to broadband coverage and high-speed internet in every corner of the Commonwealth, and I was proud to negotiate the bipartisan infrastructure law that has made significant progress on this front,” Warner said in the release.

“Access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet is crucial to ensuring our rural communities grow and thrive, and I’m thrilled that this $25 million investment for Norton, Wise County, and Lee County will help our small businesses, students, and residents stay connected.”

Duane Miller, executive director of LENOWISCO, said it will likely be six to eight months before the funding is in hand due to award requirements that include an environmental review.

He said the grant will complement existing Virginia Telecommunications Initiative funds that are being used to deploy internet service in Lee and Wise counties.

Miller added that LENOWISCO is partnered with Scott County Telephone Cooperative to provide universal broadband coverage within the planning district footprint, which includes Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the city of Norton.

According to the USDA Rural Development news release, ReConnect Program applicants must serve rural areas that lack access to internet service with speeds of 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads, and must commit to building facilities capable of achieving speeds of 100 Mbps, download and upload, in every location in the proposed project area. 

Susan Cameron is a reporter for Cardinal News. She has been a newspaper journalist in Southwest Virginia...