RiverStreet Networks, a sister company of rural provider Wilkes Communications, has received a $191.1 million loan from CoBank that will go, in part, to refinance legacy USDA Rural Utilities Service financing and, in part, to deploy fiber broadband in rural areas of North Carolina and Virginia.
Wilkes Communications has been the ILEC in Wilkes County, NC for over 60 years, while RiverStreet serves customers in other counties.
Eric S. Cramer, president and CEO of Wilkes/RiverStreet, told Telecompetitor that the total project cost will be $330 million, with 82% of total costs funded through a variety of federal, state, and local grants. In addition, $100 million from the CoBank loan will be used toward the project. Of that, $30 million already has been spent.
The projects will include converting the remaining 25% of Wilkes/RiverStreet customers that are connected to the internet via copper to fiber.
Most of the locations to be built are in Virginia, Cramer said. The company noted in an announcement that buildout plans include 17 counties in Virginia, including 68,000 grant-funded locations.
“Our mission has always been to connect communities and empower individuals through cutting-edge telecommunications solutions,” said Cramer in an announcement about the funding win. “With this substantial financial backing, we are ready to break down barriers and bring the digital future within reach for even the most remote regions of North Carolina and Virginia.”
One County Already Completed
A separate RiverStreet announcement highlighted the completion of a fiber deployment in King and Queen County, Virginia that connected 4,236 locations. A key element of the deployment was connectivity to the Rappahannock Tribal Center in the county.
The total project cost was $22 million, Cramer said. Funding for the project included between $14 million and $15 million in grants.
The grants included $3.8 million from the county, which included $3.1 million plus $700,000 in funding that came through the CARES Act. Other grants included $200,000 in CARES funding from the Rappahannock Tribe, $5.8 million from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) run by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development and $5 million from the FCC Connect America Fund II (CAF II) auction.
RiverStreet has an agreement with the county to share revenues from the network. The share is based on a percentage of collected broadband revenue tied to the customer take rate after a specific threshold is reached. The county already received its first monthly revenue share check.