INDEPENDENCE — The Grayson County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at its April 13 meeting about establishing a wireless internet authority for the county.
Tom Revels — Grayson’s liaison to internet service provider Gigabeam and project manager for the county’s universal broadband project — laid out a case methodically before the board, citing multiple reasons a wireless authority would be of benefit.
“As you know from prior discussions, the primary goal of the county’s communication infrastructure plan is to provide reliable and redundant service assets across the entire county and to attempt to our best ability to eliminate the voids and the disconnects in communication that exists,” he said.
Revels said the three areas a wireless authority could achieve are universal access to broadband service for all citizens — which he defined as access that is an option but not a mandate — reliable cell service, and having state-of-the-art 911 communication capabilities across the county.
The proposed wireless authority would help the county realize these goals more effectively, according to Revels. “We all know we’re in the midst of a project with AEP and Gigabeam that includes fiber and some wireless internet broadband services. But we’ve learned a lot of lessons from that project thus far,” he said. “And we believe the wireless authority will allow the county to take advantage of state regulations.”
Revels also noted that an authority would have the ability to focus on securing more funding and services. “There are statutes specifically established to govern wireless authorities that counties establish to develop partnerships with additional vendors that can bring new technology and new approaches to overlay on the services that are now being offered to the county, to try to fill in the holes that exist” in the area, he said.
“A wireless authority will also give us greater access to grant funding that’s coming now from the state and federal governments,” Revels noted. “And there is a new round of funding that will be coming from the feds in ‘24 that a wireless authority will position us very effectively to hopefully access.”
He assured the board that the wireless authority could be set up without adding any additional personnel to the county budget. Initially, the board of supervisors members would serve as the board for the authority. “And as project manager of the current broadband project, I could serve as the project manager under the wireless authority,” Revels said.
Supervisor At-Large John Fant addressed this suggestion in a follow-up phone call from the newspaper. “We’re already county employees and we’re already paid,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a growth in additional cost.”
He did note that the wireless authority might want citizen advisors from each district for additional input, but that the board would be in charge of the authority’s financial decisions. However, Fant said, these ideas are still in the planning stage.
Partway through the vote to hold a public hearing, Wilson District Supervisor Zeke Anderson expressed some concerns about the idea. “Anytime we create another authority, we’re creating another layer of governmental bureaucracy and that seems to be where we’ve been for the last year trying to solve the [broadband] issue… I am in favor of having a public hearing, but I guess my concern is if folks from the public come, they may be like me — they don’t even know what to ask.”
He asked if any information would be put before the citizens prior to the meeting.
Revels noted that this was “just an introduction” to the idea. “We will put information on the county’s website. We’re working on that content right now,” he said, adding that he planned to get information out so citizens could make an informed decision.
“The details of how this would be set up is not in your request,” said Anderson. “It’s just a hearing to discuss whether we authorize the authority to have discretionary spending, or if we’re just going to work as a pass-through who serves on that authority. Those things are still part of the discussion for the hearing?”
“That’s correct,” said Revels.
Fant noted that the formation of regional authorities, which the Virginia General Assembly once authorized, “has now been delegated down to allow counties to be able to have authority. And so, having an authority for the county to be able to focus on county assets and county capability or different technologies and accessing different funding is really what it’s all about.”
Fant said that the county’s Broadband Committee will hear about the ideas on March 22 and there will be a presentation at April’s board of supervisors meeting before the public hearing.
The board then voted to approve the hearing.
Revels emphasized that he is willing to field questions directly from the public, and can be reached at 980-253-0681.