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Broadband access differs for Shenandoah, Frederick

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.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.



Shentel's monopoly in Shenandoah county is ridiculous. Yes we can get DSL and it is mostly decent, but having to pay 20 bucks for a phone line just for the privilege of paying for their DSL is crazy. I pay 10 bucks for the cheapest phone line and then have to pay a 6 dollar "interstate access charge" even though I cant call long distance. Then all of the other local fees that are associated with it. I welcome Comcast coming and supplying some competition.

We will not get broadband until Messrs. Ferguson and French allow us to. What we really need is FIOS to come blow them out of the county.


Jonathon, I agree! Shentel is horrible, and way overpriced. I hate that they are our only option.

Shentel is only a monopoly because no *big* corporation believes the area is worth their time. The interstate access charges and fees that you pay do not go to Shentel. Check out this link to the State Corporation Commission to see what those "fees" really go to http://www.scc.virginia.gov/puc/bill.aspx. And to Rusty - we do have broadband in Shenandoah County and have had it longer than many urban areas in the state. You read about surrounding counties in this story. If you can get a phone in Shenandoah County, you can have broadband Internet. Shentel is not perfect, but it is a responsible local employer who has been in business for 110 years and is continuing to grow while many other businesses are shrinking. Shareholders in this company are largely from Shenandoah County. Local technicians, local customer service. Don't hold your breath for FiOS. Expansion was put on hold in 2010 and has not resumed. Sometimes the grass truly is not greener.

I have to agree with Jonathon on this one. Shentel has horrible customer service because there is no competition. The fact about having to pay for basic telephone service to be eligible for DSL is basically robbery or greed. They can provide naked dsl without the subscriber using the actual phone line but they do not. They would lose the extra 10 bucks. Most people that use the hell out of internet no longer use land line telephones, they use their cell phones due to mobility. I have called and argued about naked dsl or dry loop service and they just say its not possible. I have chosen not to deal with them ever and they have lost lots of business to cell phone broadband plans. I hope they are happy with losing business because it was easy money. Maybe one of their suits should be reading this and doing some economic business planning. Oh that's right, they don't need the money because they have the leverage of a monopoly. Everyone have a nice day now. :)

I have had high speed wireless internet for 5 years in Mountain Falls. Why the hangup on fiber? Could it be more money for the French's? And Wave2net is coming to ShenCo soon.

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