Will a $ 21 million state grant to expand high-speed internet in the County of the Isle of Wight, Suffolk and the County of Southampton achieve universal broadband – where anyone want to pay for a fiber optic internet connection can get one?
Not quite, according to Eric Collins, director of government services for Charter Communications.
Governor Ralph Northam announced the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant in December, which will fund new fiber-optic infrastructure in underserved areas of the three Western Tidewater communities through a partnership with Charter, the main Internet service provider for the region. Collins briefed the Isle of Wight Supervisory Board in a working session Jan.6 on the status of the project, which Charter hopes to begin this year.
Only residents living in areas where cable modem connections are not currently available will be able to purchase a fiber-to-the-home connection, Collins said.
Charter has released a map showing approximately which areas will benefit from fiber-to-the-home versus which areas will continue to be served by cable modem connections. But deputy county administrator Don Robertson said he was not aware of any existing list or map that would indicate street by street who will and will not have fiber-optic access to their homes.
Fiber to the home has become the “gold standard” of broadband Internet. In December, Surry County became the first community in Tidewater to offer universal fiber-to-the-home access through its own VAT grant and a partnership with Dominion Energy and Prince George’s broadband Electric Cooperative, Ruralband .
On the flip side, Isle of Wight residents with cable modem connections via Charter have had to deal with brownouts, which Collins attributed to strain on the existing ‘hybrid fiber-coaxial’ infrastructure. From Charter.
“I use my Verizon hotspot at least three to four times a month, but I am paying you for a service that I am not receiving,” supervisor Dick Grice told Collins.
According to Collins, hybrid systems work by routing fiber to a “node,” which converts the data and sends it over a coaxial television cable to a person’s home. If too many homes share a single node, connectivity interruptions can occur.
Jason Gray, a former Charter employee who now works for the Isle of Wight County Information Technology Department, later told supervisors that at present the only people on the Isle of Wight who have fiber optic connections to their homes via Charter are professional customers. and the nine county public schools. All residential services currently go through the hybrid network.
While the grant money will not cover the cost of replacing existing hybrid connections with fiber-to-the-home, the new fiber-optic infrastructure “strengthens our backbone,” Collins said, and as such , could lead some existing Charter customers to see an improvement in their connectivity.
There are also over 1,300 homes that will be served by Ruralband rather than Charter.
Prior to partnering with the Three Localities and the Hampton Roads District Planning Commission on the grant application, Charter had bid on a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) – a federal program that enables Internet service providers to compete for the rights to provide services in specific areas. census blocks. Federal and state programs will give Charter the ability to extend broadband to more than 3,000 homes in the Isle of Wight. But Ruralband won the rights to several census blocks in areas of the county near Surry.
The Isle of Wight-Suffolk-Southampton VAT grant allows for an 18-24 month deployment for fiber infrastructure construction.