By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
Broadband access by fiberoptic cable varies greatly between Frederick and Shenandoah counties, as a map provided by a state agency shows.
A large gap in available wirelines covers much of the western half of Frederick County, even as close as a short distance to the west of Winchester.
By comparison, wireline broadband covers much of the developed part of Shenandoah County, with the bulk of the coverage area focused along Interstate 81 and spanning in either direction.
But sections of the county remain without broadband access, according to online mapping program. Some areas remain undeveloped. Others may not ever see houses built because of the terrain or other reasons.
Efforts continue to spread broadband access and localities have some backing by the state and federal government.
"We all realize at this point how important it is," Walter Banks, information technology director for Frederick County, said Friday. "We want to make sure that the community can take full advantage. From a business-economic standpoint, I think it makes a lot of sense for us to make sure that there's some equality throughout the entire county."
Banks noted much of the county's undeveloped "prime" real estate may not attract potential businesses or industries or homes builders without readily accessible broadband.
Spreading wireline broadband access to rural areas remains an issue for Frederick County and officials recently held a meeting on the subject. Organizers of the meeting invited residents and representatives of area service providers to talk about areas where broadband has not yet been made available.
"Support has come out from all areas -- from the federal government, from the state level, at the local level," Banks.
Many of these supporters appeared at the meeting. Not all service providers in the area sent representatives to the meeting but those that didn't have expressed to the county a willingness to become involved, according to Banks.
Officials and elected leaders had been hearing complaints for years from constituents about spotty service, caps on data speed rates, according to Walter Banks, information technology director for Frederick County.
Areas with no or spotty broadband service include Gore, Shawneeland, Mountain Falls and Star Tannery, Banks said.
"It really handcuffed a couple of areas," Banks said Friday.
Access goes beyond surfing the Web. Discussion about the use and need for broadband access delved into "distance learning," or online educational classes.
"When you talk about public safety, we want to make sure our sheriff's deputies, fire and rescue folks throughout the field, they have good communication back to our public safety building and back to the data they use to do their job," Banks said.
The director said he didn't know exactly how many households in Frederick do not have access to broadband. Determining those residents who could not receive access -- even if they want it -- remains a part of the county's efforts to bring broadband to all homes.
Frederick County continued to fine tune the process by using the broadband mapping tools offered by the state, Banks said. The county officials working on the process decided to follow what other localities have done to tackle the issue.
Frederick County has receive a $25,000 planning grant -- the same amount awarded to Warren County for its broadband access efforts -- and are continuing to work through the steps to qualify for funding related to the national and statewide initiative. Steps include forming a management team for the county and Winchester, Banks said.
Now the county plans to hire a consultant who would vet the information already gathered and look at potential solutions to expanding service, Banks said.
"What makes sense to serve the community because we realize one solution that works for one area might not work for another area," Banks said.
Shenandoah County, by comparison, may have easier access to broadband, though some areas still remain unserved. Shentel remains the sole provider for broadband DSL in the county. But as Earle MacKenzie, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the company said Friday, 100 percent of Shentel customers in Shenandoah County have access to broadband.
"We have built the network in order to provide service to all the homes past, granted not every home past is using service from Shentel, but if somebody wanted a broadband service in Shenandoah County they could get it from us," MacKenzie said.
Shentel began efforts in the late 1990s to make broadband available to all its subscribers and completed that work in 2005, according to MacKenzie.
"We've been very aggressive and made the investment early on in order to be able to provide a suburban-urban type of environment for our customers," MacKenzie said.
Shentel customers who own a second home at Bryce Resort, as an example, likely have better DSL service than they have at home, according to MacKenzie.
Shentel, as a Sprint affiliate for the area, built a 3G network but are in the process of upgrading with a 4G network to provide wireless data option, MacKenzie said. As the Shentel executive explained the company has customers further north into Frederick County who use Sprint wireless as a substitute for wireline broadband because they have no cable or DSL modem options.