Folks living in the Boxley Building in downtown Roanoke will soon have the choice of the community’s first Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access delivered by publicly owned infrastructure. The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) recently announced that one of the ISPs using the fiber has decided to expand its services to residential premises in the building.
Fulfilling The Purpose
“This goes back to the core, as far as why this was formed,” broadband authority President and CEO Frank Smith said. “To create a network that other players can come in and use. We’re doing what we set out to do.”
ABS Technology is based in Virginia Beach and has an office in Roanoke. The company is starting with the single apartment building but told the Roanoke Times they may offer last mile services to more Roanoke residential subscribers in future. ABS regional sales manager Greg Henderson said that the RVBA infrastructure enabled ABS to develop the project. Without it, he said “there is no way” the company would have been able to pursue a residential build out.
Better Connectivity, Better Community
RVBA provides several options for local businesses, including dark fiber, data transport, and Internet access. ISPs such as ABS lease fiber to serve local businesses and large institutions with the expertise to manage their own networks. The resource is helping to reinvigorate Roanoke and the surrounding community.
Earlier this year, RVBA connected a business accelerator downtown aimed at attracting and keeping talent at home. The project is a collaboration between the city, the Virginia Western Community College, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. The city renovated an old historic building, the college will be offering business courses there, and the council will develop mentoring and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs who fill spaces at the incubator.
The Roanoke Valley has faced some tough times and the RVBA network is helping to stimulate economic development. The area had a reputation as a funding and connectivity donut hole - too large to qualify for many sources of funding but too sparsely populated to attract national providers. Community leaders were searching for strategies to diversify their textile and manufacturing economies, which were increasingly dependent on better connectivity.
After overcoming resistance from incumbents and funding challenges, the RVBA was able to begin construction of its fiber plant in April 2015. One year later, they finished construction and lit the system. This past March, the Authority began a 25-mile expansion to reach farther into Roanoke County’s rural area, which will pass about 650 additional commercial premises.
The Start Of Something Bigger?
While the RVBA is focusing on business connectivity, their open access infrastructure is an invitation to last mile ISPs like ABS, which may want to tap the residential market. Smith said that he anticipates more will follow:
“It’s a milestone,” Smith said. “The whole purpose of the network is to have other providers ride the network, and we want to make sure we’re providing that backbone infrastructure for them.”
Take a few minutes to listen to Christopher's September 2016 interview with Smith for the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 221.