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Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Moving Forward

After multiple delays, the much anticipated Roanoke-Salem fiber network in Virginia has its feet on the ground. The network has secured an executive director who will provide greater project oversight and find Internet service providers (ISPs) to operate on the open access network.

Now that the project is under way, it is moving at a rapid pace. The Broadband Authority already secured a contract for $2.9 million to lay the conduit for the fiber optic cable, and crews are already at work. By year’s end, the project should finally be complete.

Two years ago, a completion date seemed far-fetched. The cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt met to discuss the growing problem of poor Internet access in the region. The area had the reputation for being in a "doughnut hole" - too large to qualify for federal grants but too sparsely populated to attract investment from large telecom providers. The city of Roanoke, for instance, ranked 409th out of 429 US metropolitan areas for basic Internet access.

Officials knew the situation was bad for economic development. Affordable, reliable broadband access could help grow, and keep, local companies in the region and attract new businesses and institutions - especially the important textile and manufacturing jobs that had driven the local economy for generations. The two cities and two counties came together to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended the creation a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and a 60-mile, $8.2 million, open access network.

After the initial stage, disagreements between the entities complicated the project. Botetourt County already had open access fiber managed by Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and felt additional redundancy from another fiber line was not worth the investment. Botetourt County Administrator Kathleen Guzi:

“We don’t believe we need the redundancy yet.” 

In Roanoke County, officials were hesitant to fund the network. Each government entity had agreed to provide $2 million to the project, and that presented a budget concern for Roanoke County. The county board also saw it as government encroachment on the private sector, distinct from an infrastructure project. Eventually, both Roanoke and Botetourt Counties withdrew from the project.

The cities of Roanoke and Salem expressed disappointment but acknowledged that they would move forward without the counties, according to Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess:

“If whatever we decide to do ends up going into a community that’s not fully participating, it’s still open access broadband for whatever business happens to be there. We’re not going to restrict anybody’s access to it. That’s the whole idea of this. We’re going to create something that’s open to every potential provider, every potential customer. It’s open access. That’s what it’s there for.”

After Botetourt and Roanoke counties withdrew, Roanoke and Salem entirely revamped the project. Scaling back the network to just 47 miles, they cut down the cost to less than $4 million. Salem's Municipal Electric Department uses existing fiber that can be integrated into the project, so the majority of the new fiber will run through Roanoke. Some of the fiber will still extend into parts of Botetourt and Roanoke counties.

The Virginia Resources Authority has issued a $6.2 million bond to cover the network’s construction and any unforeseen costs. Both cities have committed to repaying the debt on the bond until the network generates enough revenue to cover network costs and debt service. 

From philosophical disagreements to changing plans, it has been a long road for the fledgling Roanoke-Salem network. Now with an executive director and a $6.2 million bond, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority should complete the 47-mile, open access network by the end of 2015.

Roanoke Valley map from Foundation For Roanoke Valley

Ting! Holly Springs, NC to Get a Gig

While Google Fiber and AT&T focus on the large cities of the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the small town of Holly Springs is pursuing a third option. 

Holly Springs will be the third town to see Ting’s “crazy fast fiber Internet.” After a successful foray into the U.S. mobile service market, the Toronto-based company Ting has started to provide Internet service by partnering with local governments. Ting will offer 1 Gbps in Holly Springs by building on the town’s $1.5 million municipal fiber network. 

Muni network restricted by state law

Holly Springs, with a population of almost 30,000, has worked hard to improve its connectivity. In mid-2014, they completed a 13-mile fiber Institutional network (often called an “I-Net”) to connect the municipal buildings and other public institutions, such as schools and hospitals. 

Unfortunately, when business and residents wanted to connect to the network, a North Carolina state law prevented the town from providing Internet services directly.  As it became obvious that Google Fiber would not pass through the town, leaders worked with a consulting company to try to draw in a private Internet service provider (ISP).

Ting! Innovative Partnerships

The locked-up potential of that fiber helped attract Ting. The municipal network's unused fiber will function as a backbone for Ting to deploy its own last-mile infrastructure, which will provide connectivity directly to homes and businesses.

Ting has had success with small towns. The first Ting town was Charlottesville, Virginia, where the company bought a local ISP’s existing fiber network, improving the speeds and prices. Most recently, Ting partnered with the city of Westminster, Maryland, to expand broadband access. The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors dubbed it 2015’s “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year” and presented the partnership with an award in September. Check out our podcast conversations with Dr. Robert Wack from Westminster and Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows (parent company of Ting).

Local networks are the solution

Construction on the Holly Springs network is likely to begin in early 2016. Although not all public private partnerships prove successful, Ting’s approaches support the philosophy that communities should be empowered to make these decisions locally. Noss explained in the press release [PDF]:

The problem of slow, expensive and unreliable Internet access is national but agreements like the one reached with Holly Springs further demonstrate that the solution is local.

USDA Broadband Funding for Rural Projects; Coops On Top

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:


Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.


Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million loan.

Northeast Service Cooperative will receive two $3 million grants and, through a partnership with the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa, provide broadband service on the the Fond du Lac Reservation.


Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association will upgrade their system with fiber through a $29.95 million loan.


@Link Services will receive $1.5 million in grants to provide broadband services in Seminole County.

South Carolina

FTC Communications will improves its wireless to 4G/LTE with a $12.38 million loan.


Scott County Telephone Cooperative, with a $2.1 million grant, will provide one gigabit to 540 locations in Dickenson County to increase economic development.


LaValle Telephone Cooperative will use a $7.61 million loan to deploy fiber.

It is no longer surprising to find faster, more affordable, more reliable Internet networks in rural areas served by coopertives. Minnesota's Farmers Mutual Telephone CooperativeCo-Mo Cooperative central Missouri, or Farmer's Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama are only a few we have covered. As large corporate providers fail to provide modern services, rural cooperatives have stepped up to offer services to their members and improve economic development prospects in the communities they serve.

Danville's Incremental Strategy Pays Off - Community Broadband Bits Episode 166

Danville, Virginia, has long been one of the municipal network approaches that we like to highlight. Built in a region hard hit by the transition away from tobacco and manufacturing economies, the open access fiber network called nDanville has led to many new employers coming to town and has shown the benefits of a low-risk, incremental investment strategy for building a fiber network.

Jason Grey, Interim Utilities Manager, is back on the show to update us on their approach. He introduced the network to us three years ago on episode 22.

Since we last checked in, Danville has continued expanding the fiber network to a greater number of residents and Jason talks with us about the importance and challenges of marketing to residents. We also discuss how they lay conduit as a matter of course, even in areas they do not plan to serve immediately with the fiber network.

Read all of our coverage of Danville here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146

When we last wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, it was a coop focused on open access middle mile connections. Now it has become the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and is starting to work on some plans to expand open access last mile access.

This week, we speak with MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso to learn more about their history and current approach. We discuss how they got started financially and lessons for other middle mile open access efforts.

We also discuss their plan to expand the model to last mile businesses and homes in Martinsville in southern Virginia. And along the way, we learn how incumbent providers react differently to open access in the middle mile than in the last mile.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Dark Fiber Option Coming to Arlington Businesses

Arlington is finally ready to open up its network to local businesses seeking better connectivity, reports local news WJLA. The county board recently voted unanimously to allow providers to lease dark fiber from approximately 10 miles of the 59-mile network. They hope to spur economic development and entice ISPs to provide better connectivity for residents via the network.

"The dark fiber, in the most simplest terms, is like a super highway. You're the only car on that highway and you can go as fast as the vehicle you've chosen can go," explained Jack Belcher, chief information officer of Arlington County.

We first reported on Arlington's network in 2012, after the community had dedicated about 2 years to the project. They took advantage of investments in the local Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) upgrades, improvements to the emergency communications system, and an electric power upgrade by a local electrical provider to deploy a next generation network.

The original plan was focused on schools, traffic management, and public safety, but last year community leaders chose to investigate expanding the network for economic development. We spoke with Belcher last May in Episode #97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Below is local coverage:

Ting Delivering FTTH Is Great News for Community Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 134

In recent weeks, we have been excited to see announcements from Ting, a company long known for being a great wireless provider (both Lisa and I are customers), that is now getting into FTTH deployments. The first announcement was from Charlottesville where it acquired another company. Last week they announced a partnership with Westminster, Maryland.

This week we interview Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, which is the parent of Ting. Elliot has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet.

We discuss many issues from Ting's success in wireless to cities dealing with permitting and access in rights-of-way to Ting's willingness and enthusiasm to operate on municipal fiber open access networks. We finish with some musings on upcoming over the top video technologies like SlingTV from Dish.

Both Elliot and I are presenting at the upcoming Freedom to Connect event in New York City on March 2 and 3rd.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Issues RFP

The Roanoke Valley in Virginia has taken a deliberate pace on the road to improving local connectivity. On December 10th, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) released an RFP for proposals for an open access fiber optic network.

The RVBA is seeking a partner to build the network that will remain a publicly owned asset but will be managed by a private partner. According to the RFP, the City of Salem Electric Department has fiber in place that will be integrated into the the network. The RVBA has already invested in design, engineering, and permitting of 42 miles of a fiber network to jumpstart the process. Construction should begin this year.

In November, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:

The valley is often described as being caught in a “doughnut hole” for broadband service because it’s not a large enough area for the marketplace to drive creation of a truly high-speed network, but it’s too large to qualify for grants available to more rural locales.

The Times-Dispatch reports the estimated cost for the project is $4 million. 

Gigabit Muni Fiber Partnership: Westminster and Ting

Westminster's city council just voted unanimously to establish a partnership with Ting, reports the Carroll County Times. Known primarily as a mobile service provider, Ting wants to offer Internet services via the new municipal fiber optic network. Ting announced earlier this month that it would soon begin offering Internet service in Charlottesville, Virginia as well.

In their own announcement about the partnership, CTC Technology & Energy's Joanne Hovis described the arrangement:

The City will fund, own, and maintain the fiber; Ting will lease the fiber and provide all equipment and services. Ting will pay the City to use the fiber—reducing the City’s risk while enabling Ting to offer Gigabit Internet in Westminster without having to build a fiber network from scratch.

CTC has worked with Westminster since the beginning to analyze the community's situation, assets, and challenges. 

We have watched Westminster's idea blossom into a pilot project and then go full bloom to a planned 60-mile network when demand dictated nothing less. The project has been community driven and community minded. It comes to no surprise to us that a straight shooting, consumer minded provider such as Ting would be the partner Westminster would choose.

Dr. Robert Wack, city council member and local project leader told the Times:

"From the very beginning, it was obvious that they [Ting] understood what we were trying to do," said Council President Robert Wack. "We got a lot of feedback from other responses that was questioning to flat-out skeptical."

Ting considers the arrangement an organic step for them. From the press release:

It all feels like a really nice model for how this stuff should work. The city of Westminster builds a fiber network underneath the streets, driveways, hills and valleys they know best and ultimately owns their own future. We do pretty much exactly what we have been doing for our mobile customers for three years. Most importantly, the people of Westminster, Maryland will join the ranks of Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chattanooga and, soon, Charlottesville, Virginia with blazing fast, video streaming, photo uploading, economy driving, job creating Internet to boast and enjoy.

For more on the project, listen to Chris's interview with Dr. Wack in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We will feature Ting in an upcoming episode of Community Broadband Bits.

Update: Motherboard has a story with a great quote from Dr. Robert Wack: 

"We want to blow this thing up, and we want disruptive services at disruptive pricing," Robert Wack, Westminster's city council president, told me. "We've got Comcast and its usual suite of services, Verizon DSL, with its patchy service areas, and dish and satellite services. Nobody is happy with any of it, and none of it has the capacity we need to take this city into the future."

Error - we previously wrote North Carolina rather than Virginia. This is Charlottesville, Virginia.

Local Voices Show Support for Local Connectivity Options

Our readers have heard the media murmur around municipal networks steadily grow to a loud hum during the past year. An increasing number of local press outlets have taken the opportunity to express their support for municipal networks in recent months.

In communities across the U.S. letters to the editor or editorial board opinions reflected the hightened awareness that local decisionmaking is the best answer. Support is not defined by political inclination, geography, or urbanization.

Last fall, several Colorado communities asked voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority hijacked by the state legislature and Qwest (now CenturyLink) lobbyists in 2005. Opinion pieces from local political and business leaders in the Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera encouraged voters to support the measures. Downtown Boulder Inc. and the Boulder Chamber wrote:

Clearly a transparent public process is appropriate for identifying the best path to higher-speed infrastructure. One thing is certain. Approving the exemption to State Law 152 is a step in the right direction.

Expensive service, poor quality connections, and limited access often inspire local voices to find their way to the news. Recently, City Council Member Michael Wojcik from Rochester, Minnesota, advocated for a municipal network for local businesses and residents. His letter appeared in the

If we want to control our broadband future, we need to join successful communities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., and create a municipal fiber network. In many cities around the world, residents get 1 gigabyte, bidirectional Internet speeds for less than $40 per month. In Rochester, I get 1 percent of those speeds for $55 per month. I believe if Bucharest, Romania, can figure this out, Rochester can as well.

Last summer, Austin Daily Herald reporter Laura Helle wrote in support of the Minnesota community's proposed Gig Austin project. She acknowledged that there were those in the community who considered their Internet access "fine" but "fine" would not sufficiently encourage growth and economic development.

In May, the Olympian Editorial Board suggested several communities in Washington open up municipal fiber networks for consumer use.

Some editorials or letters we see support specific projects. Connecticut community media outlets are also voicing support for a statewide initiative commenced last fall. Hartford Business published an opinion piece from State Senator Beth Bye and Consumer Counsel Ellin Katz on the need for better connectivity in the state. They then followed up with an editorial supporting the plan:

To be frank, investing in high-speed Internet infrastructure hasn't been an issue high on our priority list, but when you look at the statistics and the economic implications, it is something state policymakers and the business community should look at seriously.

A number of communities have expressed interest in joining the Connecticut effort and journalists and editors in communities like Wallingford have published pieces encouraging their local leaders to participate.

Bill Nemitz, writing for the Portland Press Herald, and Stephen Betts at the Bangor Daily News highlighted the promise of municipal networks in Maine. Nemitz believes Maine should consider a network similar to Massachusetts' WiredWest or take a closer look at Leverett. The Daily News touted Rockport's investment as a locally driven initiative:

As Rockport lights its fiber, many other towns across Maine contemplate the economic and quality of life benefits fiber promises. The network wouldn’t have moved forward without the support of businesses and institutions, as well as local taxpayers, who believed in the value of fiber. Private investment and revenue from the town’s Tax Increment Financing account funded the project.

Reading Newspaper NYC

The Daily News writes fondly of Rockport's local self-reliant approach: "...towns across the state would do well to take notice of Rockport's example."

In communities where projects have been considered, local media has felt compelled to express to their support. In Roanoke County, Virginia, a project has been debated for over a year. In July the Roanoke Times Editorial Board published "Our view: Strike up the broadband" in support of the project.

Recently, we reported on a collaborative project in McHenry County, Illinois involving the county, a nearby community college, a school district, and the city. In December, the Northwest Herald supported the project with an editorial, citing taxpayer savings and potential economic development.

Economic development is often cited as one of the most important reasons local citizens, leaders, and editorial boards support local initiatives. The Editorial Board of ended 2014 with strong support of a proposed plan to develop a fiber optic network to attract business:

We urge city leaders move ahead with all deliberate speed on our own "Gig City" project, and all the local governments and business support organizations in our region to work in partnership to create a new atmosphere of excitement for entrepreneurism.

Such jobs, created handful by handful in small companies with large potential, will boost our Rocket City to new levels of success.

We also came across an editorial encapsulating the process and the success of local connectivity in The Dalles, Oregon. The network paid off its debt ahead of schedule. The Dalles Chronicle covered the story, highlighting the benefits of the network but also providing a brief history of the tumultuous history behind the decision to invest in a network. Ultimately, the community's success was the realization of their vision which is now their fiber optic network asset, QLife. From the editorial:

Their vision has been validated over and over in the subsequent years.

QLife isn’t the only benefit that has come from a community-wide vision.

Every community needs visionaries to help shape its future and The Dalles one has reaped benefits from visionaries as it has materially transformed itself over the decades.

But every community also needs hard-headed pragmatists to question the need, analyze the plan and help make sure any vision stands up under public scrutiny.

Only through this crucible of diverging perspectives does truly sound public policy emerge.

QLife is a testiment to effectiveness of that crucible.

Beleve it or not, these are only a few of the letters to the editor and editorials we see on a regular basis in support of local telecommunications authority, specific municipal projects under consideration, or from a public that knows local connectivity needs a boost from the community.

If your community suffers from poor connecivity for residents, business, or public institutions, you should consider the possibilty of a community network initiative. Writing editorials and letters to the editor in local media is a good way to find like minded citizens and bring attention to the issue.

For more on starting a community network initiative in your community, check out our Community Network Toolkit or many of our other resources.

Photo of the newspaper stack courtesy of Globalimmigrantnews through Wikimedia Commons. Photo of the newspaper reader courtesy of c_pichler through Wikimedia Commons