In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA provided key funding to build the backbone of the regional network. Today, the ESVBA has already improved wireless services in several communities and is at work on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) test project.
The space agency played a key role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and features a visitor center. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore all needed reliable connectivity for their programs.
Internet Service Like Lightspeed
The FTTH test project started last September in Harborton, Virginia, as part of the Town Broadband Initiative Project. The landscape is typical of rural Virginia with little density as houses and businesses spread out into the woods. They have recently signed up the first few customers; this small town on the eastern shore has about 100 homes.
Community Effort: Local Seed Funding
In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the public, not for profit entity through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to solve a growing problem on the shore. The lack of connectivity was having a negative impact on local rural communities. The counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network.
Then the ESVBA went in search of further funding. They received about $8 million in federal and state support - nearly half of which came from NASA - to build the middle mile backbone. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $1 million of support from a Community Development Block Grant (see also Nelson County, Virginia). When the network became sustainable, the ESVBA decided to repay the seed money, returning the initial investment to the counties.
In addition to NASA, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration connect to the network along with most of the schools and healthcare institutions in the region.
Open Access, Middle Mile Network
The ESVBA network is an open access, middle mile network that wireless ISPs, cellular providers, and others can use to deliver both residential and businesses services throughout the Eastern Shore. Several ISPs use the infrastructure, including national provider Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications LLC.
Over the past few years, the ESVBA has been able to lower prices for the wireless ISPs while using revenues to expand the network and upgrade equipment. The network stretches down the coast and also provides free Wi-Fi hot spots for visitors.