Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 15, 2013

Wireless upgrade — Multi-year project a positive

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— The completion of the initial phase of a multi-million dollar wireless communications network upgrade for Southwest Virginia is welcomed news. And even better news is the announcement that work on phase two, which includes parts of Tazewell County, should be completed by this fall.

The Virginia Coalfield Coalition working in conjunction with several implementation partners has completed the upgrade of 15 existing wireless towers in the coalition’s seven-county Southwest Virginia region. The work will allow for 4G-enabled wireless service in Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Wise counties.

The second phase of the project is expected to be completed this year, and involves the deployment of 11 new, build-to-suit towers to fill in coverage gaps in the region, including Tazewell County, according to Jim Baldwin, executive director of the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission. Areas that could see improved service in phase two include Southwest Virginia Community College near Wardell.

The multi-year project is being funded by an $11 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. When all phases are completed, it will provide enhanced communications services to 200,000 residents, 95,000 households and 2,600 private non-farm businesses, according to Terry Kilgore, chairman of the tobacco commission.

“Beyond the significant impact advanced technology will have in economic development and improving regional service, the investment will have immeasurable job-creation potential,” Kilgore said last week.

Tazewell County also stands to benefit from the broadband upgrade, according to County Administrator Jim Spencer.

Spencer said many areas in Tazewell County are still lacking 4G broadband coverage.

“We are geographically challenged in a lot of areas,” Spencer said. “If you get over to parts of Abbs Valley, Bandy, Amonate, Dix Creek and those areas, there are challenges. Hopefully this will start filling in the gaps in some of these under-served areas. It all goes back to this quality of life issue.”

Baldwin says reaching those coverage gap areas and others will be a coalition priority in the coming phases of the project. That’s good to hear. Additional new, build-to-suit towers will also be deployed at yet-to-be determined locations once the network is stable and overall coverage needs can be re-evaluated, according to the coalition.

The Virginia Coalfield Coalition is a regional economic development partnership of the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission and the Lenowisco Planning District Commission. The coalition’s implementation partners in the project are the Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority, Scott County Telephone and G4S Technology.

The project is believed to be among the nation’s first full-scale deployment of a 4G network in a rural market. It is a welcomed addition to the seven-county Southwest Virginia region, and should go a long way in helping to address coverage gaps across Tazewell and Buchanan counties.