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36 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 COMMUNITY BROADBAND A Rural Community Thinks Big Businesses were threatening to leave Charles City County, a rural area in Virginia. Then county ofcials committed to improving broadband access – and the economic picture turned around. By Andrew M. Cohill / Design Nine Inc. and Matt Rowe / Charles City County C harles City County is a surprisingly rural community despite being located between Richmond, Va., just to the west, and historic Williamsburg to the northeast. Despite its name, the county has no cities, and its population of 7,256 is only 1,668 more than it was in 1790. Residents and businesses in the county have struggled with poor telephone and Internet service for years; in 2013, county ofcials resolved to do something about the problem. Te county's one business and industrial park, located in Roxbury in the northwestern corner of the county, had close to 50 businesses, which employed more than 500 workers. As those businesses increasingly had to compete in the regional and global marketplaces to survive, the importance of reliable, afordable telecommunications became more apparent to the business community and local government ofcials. Trough one-on-one business meetings between company representatives and the county's director of economic development, local government ofcials were able to identify and document a regular occurrence of Internet and telecommunications outages that were ultimately linked to degraded, obsolete telecommunications infrastructure. Worse yet, several businesses revealed that they were considering relocating because they were unsure whether the private telecommunications service providers would make the investment to upgrade needed infrastructure and provide a higher level of service. Once this problem was identifed, the county made a commitment to the business community that it would pursue all means to address the issue. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE Te county's economic development department decided to create a telecommunications plan that prioritized infrastructure upgrades based upon economic development impact, number of residents and businesses served, and costs. To fund this plan, the county, along with its economic development authority (EDA), which provided a $10,000 local match, applied for a telecommunications planning grant administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). As part of its application submission process, the EDA created an online survey and solicited letters of support from government representatives and leaders, businesses and regional chambers of commerce, civic groups, churches, schools and residents. Tis efort resulted in more than 80 letters of support and the submission of more than 50 business and 200 residential surveys. Perhaps more important, the county gained noticeable momentum and buy-in from its businesses and residents. DHCD awarded the grant in October 2013, and after a rigorous interview and selection process, the county hired Design Nine, a broadband planning frm well known for its work with smaller and rural communities.