|Thursday, June 17, 2004
Broadband network could cost $10.5 million
By Paul Dellinger
FAIRLAWN - The New River Valley needs to get connected, fast.
That message came Tuesday from a telecommunications committee, formed by the New River Valley Planning District Commission. The committee rolled out a plan for getting broadband Internet access at two public sessions.
The fiber-optic network plan, prepared with help from the eCorridors staff at Virginia Tech and Cisco Systems, would cost an estimated $10.5 million and be developed in phases.
The first phase would connect about 130 government, education, emergency services, medical and industrial sites with a fiber-optic ring linking Montgomery, Pulaski, Giles and Floyd counties and the city of Radford, said Seth Peery with eCorridors. Smaller rings would form backup connections.
Later phases would connect schools to the localities and, eventually, make broadband available to businesses and homes.
Broadband is high-speed, immediately available Internet access carrying massive amounts of data. A survey of valley industries found most needing faster and better Internet access. Six major employers with a total of more than 9,300 workers already need voice and video which broadband could
provide, and were dissatisfied with their present available connection speeds.
Private providers are unlikely to offer this kind of connectivity because they could not make enough money in a region like this, said Radford City Councilman Bill Yerrick, committee chairman. But the communities themselves could make it affordable, he said.
Danville, Pittsylvania County and counties in far Southwest Virginia are putting together such systems with help from tobacco money, for which the New River Valley does not qualify. "We used to compete with them for jobs. We won't, soon, as we are not now playing in this ball game," said Carl Epley, a retired engineering professor and committee member.
"Xaloy of Pulaski County has draftsmen in Thailand who receive and send drawings between here, there and everywhere," he said. "The main computer for Volvo is in Sweden and obviously connected to Pulaski County. I am talking everyday routine stuff, not brain surgery. Modern businesses require broadband ... the ones that are going to survive and grow."
Jerry Kopf of Radford University said the plan would still take time to provide access to all users. If the region took the $10 million price tag and offered it to Verizon, he asked, might the company provide the service?
"If we paid Verizon $10 million and used their infrastructure, how does that make us any different than we are today?" asked Brenda van Gelder with eCorridors. "It's putting ourselves back in the same situation," she said, with a private provider that could still go where it wished and bundle services.
Peery said the $10 million cost estimate could drop if the committee gets grants and finds existing fiber. Lydeana Martin, with the planning commission staff, said some communities such as Floyd, eastern Giles, Radford and Pulaski already have some fiber lines.
Dave Rundgren, the commission's executive director, said localities should put fiber in the ground whenever water, sewer or street projects require opening a ditch. Subdivision ordinances and building codes should be amended to include fiber placement.
"All of the local governments should be, need to be, interested in building this kind of infrastructure. ... This is another utility that needs to be provided, much like we do water and sewer," Rundgren said. "It's critical now. It was critical yesterday. We need to get busy now and do what we can get done."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
A telecommunications organization must be established to seek grants and tap into other funding opportunities, and to deal with agencies and providers of broadband Internet fiber.
A meeting to discuss setting up such an organization will be held at 1:30 p.m. July 16 at the New River Valley Competitiveness Center in Fairlawn.
"All of the local governments should be, need to be, interested in building this kind of
Executive director, New River Valley Planning District Commission