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Supervisors support broadband access plan

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL - High-speed Internet access still eludes parts of Warren County, but a telecommunications plan approved Tuesday by supervisors aims to help accelerate the spread of broadband.

However, supervisors have agreed the county should spend no local funds on implementing the goals cited in the study. The county needed to approve the plan so that staff could seek grants to help implement the study's recommendations.

Supervisor Tony Carter said Tuesday expanded broadband access would benefit telecommuters, businesses, and residents using the Internet for online education.

"I think it has some merit," Carter said. "This can somewhat be equated to the early days of electricity - the more urban areas had it first and many of the rural areas did not have it until the government kind of stepped in and kind of helped bring it to those areas in a quicker fashion."

The Mechanicsville firm, The Atlantic Group of Companies, began the study two years ago. George N. Condyles IV, the firm's president and chief operating officer, gave a presentation to the board on Tuesday.

Access to broadband reaches 90 percent of Warren County, according Condyles.

"The good thing about your county is that you have a lot of wireless infrastructure," Condyles said.

Carter noted that he and Supervisor Richard Traczyk live in and represent areas included in the 90 percent. Supervisors Linda Glavis, who served on the county's broadband committee, and Dan Murray represent districts that include areas unserved or underserved by broadband.

Carter said he would support the plan, "but with that caveat, too, that we're not going to be able to do it all at once. He said they could work toward the goal over a five-to10-year period.

A lack of broadband access in some developed parts of the county appear to hinder sales of existing homes, according to Murray.

"We have properties in our subdivision that aren't moving, that have been vacant for a couple of years, beautiful homes, 'cause we don't have high-speed Internet," Murray said. "It's ridiculous. It's something we really need."

Murray noted he and his wife have tried to get broadband access at home through Verizon and My Blue Dish, but with no success.

"But it's affecting the resale of homes, and construction and sale of new homes, which is taking dearly needed tax dollars out of the community," Murray said.

The study divided the county into four sections, evaluated the service providers for each quadrant and identified areas underserved or unserved with broadband. In the northeast quadrant, called the Howellsville community, a section remains unserved with broadband because no fiberoptic cable exists, according to Condyles. The area in question also has limited wireless service, he said.

Sections of the Reliance Road corridor in the county also lack broadband access. Century Link provides broadband service up to a point on Reliance Road.

A large area of the Bentonville-Browntown community has neither broadband nor cell phone service, according to Condyles.

"It is spotty at best and that's just for voice service, so data would never work there," Condyles said.

The plan recommends the county seek a grant to update the website with information on broadband accessibility in the locality. The study shows an estimated cost of $20,000 to add another layer to what the county already offers on its website.

Condyles suggested the county could include fiberoptic cable, wire and wireless broadband providers, as layers to its global imaging systems feature. A person could type in an address in the county to see which broadband providers offer service to the property. Other information on the website could include what equipment wire and wireless service providers require.

The infrastructure investment would cost an estimated $2.2 million, but Condyles noted the county likely would need to seek grant funding to cover it. Wire technology would cost $1 million and wireless about $1.2 million, according to data collected by the firm for materials, mechanical and engineering expenses, labor and installation.

Condyles said wireless would likely be a solution for the Browntown area because of the high cost to install fiberoptic cable. The cost of the wireless solution would include towers and other equipment.

The $1 million could go to help spread broadband to the Howellsville and Reliance Road areas, Condyles said.

Given that approximately 90 percent of Warren County has access to broadband service, Condyles recommended supervisors take the facilitator approach and help local businesses attract providers. The high percentage of broadband access likely would make it less likely than other localities to receive grants for the initiative, Condyles warned. Any grant money the county receives should go to engineering and design work that could attract firms seeking to spread broadband, Condyles said.

"When we met with them multiple times they have said, hey, if we could get some engineering dollars we'll go ahead and advance the project," Condyles said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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