Tag: "virginia"

Posted June 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Prince George County, Virginia, and its electric cooperative recently entered into an agreement that will allow Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to certain areas in the county. The arrangement came after a successful pilot project that proved residents and businesses in the rural community were interested in better connectivity. The agreement will inject funding into the cooperative's plans to bring high-quality connectivity to all its members.

From Rural Pilot To Proven

In February, officials from PGEC reported to the County Board of Supervisors that the pilot project was under way. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the cooperative's formation of its PGEC Enterprises subsidiary, which will offer connectivity to members. The co-op has connected premises along one stretch of Quaker Road in Prince George County, and received applications for installation from more than 40 property owners.

By the time PGEC had finished deploying in the pilot area in early May, a total of 49 premises were connected to the network. According to the co-op’s VP, Casey Logan, that figure represents approximately two-thirds of potential subscribers. 

Jumpstarting Co-op Broadband

The performance agreement between Prince George County, PGEC, and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will provide $1 million to the cooperative in IDA bond funding to expand the pilot project to a wider network. The funds are part of spring bonding that covers a number of county projects. The County Board voted unanimously to dedicate the funds to the broadband expansion project.

In addition to connecting all its substations, PGEC will connect any residence, business, community anchor institution, or public facility within 1,000 feet of a state road along the fiber route. Approximately 500 premises are located within the planned fiber route. The project should take about four years to complete.

PGEC plans to dedicate an additional $5 million to the project over the next five years... Read more

Posted May 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporations (MBC), a broadband cooperative with member communities in Virginia, recently announced that a new project will bring Internet access to students at home to help close the “homework gap” in Charlotte and Halifax counties.

Homework At Home

Approximately half of the K-12 students in the two southern counties don’t have Internet access at home, interfering with their ability to hone the skills they need for future success. To address the issue, MBC and its partner Microsoft obtained funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and will implement the project which reach 1,000 households and approximately 3,000 students. Students will be able to tap into their schools’ networks to access online assignments and resources from home. The service will be free.

The project is an expansion of a pilot program based on white space technology, which we’ve written about before. White space technology has been used in similar projects by libraries in New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Mississippi to extend Internet access to communities where people have limited access. White space technology isn’t interrupted by dense forests or hills, so works in the Halifax and Charlotte county terrain.

Better Connectivity, Better Economy

MBC formed in 2004 as an open access network, funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The network also received American Recovery and Reinvestment Award (ARRA) funding in order to connect schools and community anchor institutions in southern Virginia and to extend the reach of the network even further. The network now consists of more than 1,800 miles in 31 counties.

The presence of better connectivity has helped spur economic development to the tune of at least 1,100 jobs and $2.1 billion in private investment. In addition to attracting a new Microsoft data center, the network has helped... Read more

Posted May 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) has expanded its fixed wireless coverage area to include the community of Bloxom. The organization has also approved plans to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment beyond the test project town of Harborton.

Towering Above The Shore

ESVBA opened its Bloxom Tower last fall so residents and businesses in the rural community of about 380 people. The tower enables better connectivity in the underserved town and provides better cellular coverage. ESVBA is also providing a free wireless hotspot near the tower.

In order to stimulate competition and provide choice to potential subscribers, ESVBA’s Broadband Initiative Program will provide free Internet access and transport for up to 12 months for wireless ISPs.

In a press release, Chris Kreisl, of the Bloxom Town Council said:

“We knew how important it was for us to have this kind of infrastructure. Without it, we were being left behind as the information economy continued to push citizens around the globe online. Now, Bloxom businesses have the opportunity to compete on equal footing.”

 

The ESVBA

We introduced readers to the not for profit ESVBA in February. The open access middle mile network began in 2008 with funding from Accomack and Northampton Counties. The organization has obtained about $8 million dollars for deployment and expansions, some from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which use the infrastructure. ESVBA returned Accomack and Northampton counties’ investments when the network became sustainable.

More Fiber

In March, the ESVBA decided to move forward and expand the FTTH project that we wrote about in February. The expansion will bring high-quality connectivity to houses along residences situated on the ESVBA network’s existing fiber route in five rural areas. Check out expansion areas one and ... Read more

Posted May 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Broadband Valley Authority (RVBA) was busy early this legislative session helping to fight off a bill in the Virginia Legislature aimed at limiting local authority. Now that the bill has been all but neutralized by grassroots efforts, RVBA can dedicate 100 percent of its time to improving connectivity and economic development in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley.

Accelerating, Mentoring, Connecting

The RVBA just announced that its network is providing fast, affordable, reliable dark fiber services to a regional business accelerator in downtown Roanoke. The Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP) is a collaboration between the city of Roanoke, Virginia Western Community College (VWCC), and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. In a press release, Shivaji Samanta, Director of Information and Educational Technologies at Virginia Western said:

“Virginia Western has collaborated with the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority to provision fiber connectivity between its main campus and the two downtown Roanoke sites at the Claude Moore Education Center and the new entrepreneur training facilities inside the RAMP building. The project, delivered on time and within budget, provides VWCC with dedicated connectivity to its off-campus locations at speeds limited only by the equipment at the end-points for a fixed monthly cost.”

RAMP is located in an historic building that was once the Gill Memorial Hospital; the city used a $600,000 state grant to renovate the building and transform it into an incubator. VWCC will be offering business education courses at the facility and will offer faculty support, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council will develop mentorship and networking opportunities. Members of the Council also lead the RAMP Advisory Board.

Connecting the Business Community

This is the latest in what is sure to be more connections offered by the RVBA. Last fall, finance company, Meridium, signed up with the publicly owned network. The company needed dark fiber for Internet access and data transport for its downtown headquarters.

According to RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith:

“Dark Fiber is advantageous to growing businesses that wish to secure and invest up-front in... Read more

Posted April 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

A little over a year ago, we first shared the news about Bristol’s decision to privatize its FTTH network, OptiNet. Virginia based Sunset Digital Communications offered to purchase the network for $50 million. The network has saved Bristol millions of dollars, stimulated economic development, and cut telecommunications costs for local residents and businesses. Nevertheless, after several corrupt officials drove the network into a dark period of scandal, all those advancements paled and Bristol was ready to sell the network.

After months of negotiations with BVU’s partner in the Cumberland Plateau area service area, the details for the sale are coming together.

When There's A Partner

One of the last steps to completing the sale required approval from the Cumberland Plateau Company (CPC), which operates as a partner with BVU to bring connectivity to four additional counties in Virginia. As a partner with OptiNet in those areas, CPC owns approximately 50 percent of the assets.

When Sunset Digital offered $50 million for the BVU assets, CPC obtained the right of first refusal for the assets in the four counties where BVU and CPC work together as partners according to their contract.

Back in the fall of 2016, CPC was concerned about the legality and the details of the proposed transaction; they decided to wait for federal and state review before granting approval. Because the NTIA, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and the Virginia Tobacco Commission provided grant funding to the CPC region for the deployment, the agencies needed to review and approve the proposal. The agencies approved the sale, but required that a large amount of BVU debt be paid. One of the claims that they required be paid was a claim for $8 million from CPC.

Approving The Offer

As part of the offer, Sunset promises to invest $6.5 million to connect more homes and businesses in the CPC region. They estimate CPC will gain about $21 million in revenue over 13 years while Sunset operates the network. CPC will retain ownership of its assets in the CPC service area and Sunset will transfer ownership of equipment in the CPC area to CPC.

After several rounds of... Read more

Posted April 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Stafford County, Virginia, has issued a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) as they search for potential partners interested in working with them to improve local connectivity. Responses are due April 25.

In addition to searching for ideas to bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved households in the county, the community wants to connect 26 of its own facilities to an existing publicly owned I-Net. The I-Net currently serves county and school buildings but the unconnected facilities are served by separate cable connections.

The county's RFEI states that they are interested specifically in bringing speeds to the county that meet or exceed the FCC definition of broadband, which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Stafford County

The county has grown considerably in recent years and local leaders want to support economic development with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in both rural and urban areas of Stafford County’s 277 square miles. Located in the northeast part of the state between the Washington DC area and Richmond, many residents work in the beltway. Unemployment is only four percent in the county where the population is approximately 135,000. During the past ten years, more jobs have popped up in Stafford County, a trend community leaders hope to continue.

Several federal employers have facilities in Stafford County, including the FBI, the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the DEA. Some of the other employers are Geico Insurance, Intuit, and Northrup Grumman. The high tech industry is growing in the area, especially the number of new entrepreneurial businesses.

Stafford County is open to ideas and encourages respondents to consider all types of technologies including Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, satellite, or a combination of different types of technologies.

Important dates:

Deadline for Questions: April 13, 2017

Responses Due by 3:00 p.m.: April 25, 2017

Review of responses completed by County: May 19, 2017

Read the RFEI at the city's website.

Posted March 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... Read more

Posted February 16, 2017 by htrostle

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. 

logo-ESVBA.png

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 $... Read more

Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 13th, the Virginia Senate Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing on HB 2108, previously called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act" and now named the "Virginia Wireless Services Authority Act." Delegate Kathy Byron offered an amendment to the bill, it was accepted, and the bill passed. It is now headed for the full Senate where it may or may not be put on the calendar for a vote.

FOIA Language Removed

The bill came to the Senate after a revised version of the original bill passed in the House 72 - 24. The committee amendment removed a FOIA Exemption, which was the last piece of language remaining that local groups strongly opposed. In a press release, President and CEO of Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority said:

“With the removal the FOIA Exemption clause this afternoon, HB 2108 no longer poses a threat to local and municipal broadband authorities. Instead it merely reasserts the very same laws and procedures in the Code of Virginia to which we all already operate and gladly adhere and abide,”

Moving Ahead With Caution

With the exception of the Committee Chair, Sen. Frank Wagner, the vote to pass as amended was unanimous; there was one abstention. Wagner, who is running for Governor, announced his opposition to the original bill at a press conference in January. While advocates of publicly owned Internet infrastructure remain cautiously optimistic, it’s important to remember that the process is not over. The bill could still be amended in a manner that impedes local investment in better connectivity.

Working Despite State Obstruction

Even though State Legislators introduce bills that discourage better rural connectivity, local Virginia communities are doing their best to serve themselves. They realize that waiting is too risky and that the longer they have horrible connectivity, the farther behind they fall.

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We reported earlier in the legislative session that we knew of ten communities... Read more

Posted February 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 - 24 to pass HB 2108, otherwise known as "Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill." The text of the bill was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe, local leaders across the state, and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose - to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), 

...Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

...

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not "Us" vs. "Them"

At a time when everything seems political, both... Read more

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