Roanoke County is seeking proposals for broadband expansion in five areas of the county with unserved residents and businesses.

The county issued a formal request for proposals Wednesday. Internet providers will have until July 16 to present their proposals to provide broadband in rural areas of the county.

Five areas are being specifically targeted based on results from the county’s broadband survey.

The areas include Bent Mountain, where there are 109 unserved addresses and eight home-based businesses. The Bradshaw Road area has 131 unserved addresses and 13 home businesses. The Marys Way Lane and Ivyland Road areas, south of Rutrough Road, have 41 unserved addresses. The Starlight Lane area has 55 unserved addresses and five home businesses. And the Cove Hollow Road area has 32 unserved addresses.

Companies can propose solutions for the entire area or parts of the area. The county will prioritize those that can provide the most coverage or companies that team up with others to provide the most effective and widespread service.

“This has now become a top priority for our board of supervisors,” Information Technology Director Bill Hunter said. “We’re open to working with anyone who wants to help us bring internet to the county’s citizens.”

Roanoke County launched its broadband survey at the end of last year to pinpoint areas of the county most in need of internet service. The survey asked residents where they live, if they had high-speed internet and whether they would subscribe to high-speed internet if it were available.

The county sent home surveys with all public school students and sent targeted mailers to neighborhoods with known connectivity issues. In total, about 25,000 households received targeted mailings.

The county received 2,800 responses to its survey. In total, Hunter said 67% of the county has broadband access. About 20% is unserved and the rest are underserved, meaning they have internet access, but it does not meet the download speeds considered to be broadband.

“The percent of people that did not have internet was quite surprising to me,” Hunter said. “It was a bigger number than I thought.”

The county used the data to determine which areas would be targeted in its request for proposals. But staff said a company could propose a solution for a different area of the county it knows is underserved.

Roanoke County plans to pursue funding through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, a state-funded program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The county allocated an additional $100,000 in next fiscal year’s budget to provide matching funds for the grant.

Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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