Will fiber broadband internet buildout reach my home?

Published 4:36 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

Will a multimillion-dollar regional broadband buildout extend high-speed fiber optic internet availability to your home or business?

If you live on Riverview Avenue in Smithfield, East Griffin Street in Windsor, or you’re one of the 56 households the 2020 Census reported as residing within the 0.17-square-mile town of Capron in Southampton County, it’s a “yes.”

For most of downtown Suffolk and the entire city of Franklin, it’s a “no.”

Residents of Isle of Wight County, Southampton County and the city of Suffolk now can now answer this question on a street-by-street basis by plugging their addresses into an interactive map developed by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. The HRPDC map is accessible at https://tinyurl.com/32wxnj3u.

Homeowners and businesses within the buildout’s service areas will, upon its completion, have the option of purchasing a fiber-to-the-home connection — the industry gold standard in high-speed internet.

Charter Communications, the area’s dominant internet service provider, partnered with the HRPDC, Isle of Wight, Southampton and Suffolk last year on a joint application for state broadband funding — netting a $21.1 million from a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant in December. Subsequent negotiations with the state have since increased the grant to $22.7 million.

Charter and the three localities will collectively contribute another $14.5 million — for a total of $37.2 million.

But the Charter project will fall slightly short of providing the same universal fiber-to-the-home access neighboring Surry County achieved last year via its own VATI grant and partnership with Dominion Energy and Prince George Electric Cooperative’s broadband subsidiary, Ruralband.

According to Charter, only residents living in areas where cable modem service isn’t available will have the option of purchasing a fiber connection.

Ruralband, however, has secured buildout rights to roughly 600 additional homes in Isle of Wight’s Smithfield and Rushmere areas, which aren’t presently displayed on the HRPDC map.

“Part of their service area actually overlaps with areas that are already being served by Charter,” said Isle of Wight’s assistant county administrator, Don Robertson.

The map shows areas slated to receive fiber expansion through Charter shaded in purple, and areas shaded in green as those slated to receive fiber expansion via Ruralband’s project, funded via a federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grant.

Buildout of the 2,200-plus-mile fiber network is expected to take 24-36 months, up from the original 18- to 24-month timeline.

“One of the major challenges that all of our extended partners are having to deal with is supply chain (delays) and the lack of availability of skilled workers,” Robertson said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled for June 14 at 2:30 p.m. in Charter’s laydown yard in Suffolk.