Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 3, 2010

Stimulus funding to stretch broadband through 8 Va. counties

TAZEWELL, Va. — Southwest Virginia is receiving $22.7 million in federal stimulus funds to develop a 388-mile fiber optic backbone project through an eight county region, officials said Friday.

The $36 million project will create 295 direct jobs during the construction and deployment of the broadband network. The project will bring the broadband service within two miles of 18,000 homes and 500 businesses allowing for last mile connections in communities that are currently lacking broadband, U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said.

“Effective this morning, Bristol Virginia Utilities is receiving a federal grant of $22.7 million for a major expansion of broadband high-speed Internet service throughout an eight county area,” Boucher said. “Those counties include Tazewell, Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Wythe, Smyth and Washington. With these funds, Bristol Virginia Utilities will dramatically expand the availability of high-speed Internet access services throughout these counties. It will do that by deploying a high-speed fiber optic backbone 388 miles in length, and within that backbone there will speed of 10 gigabits per second. The grant is being made by the U.S. Department of Commerce through its National Telecommuni-cations and Information Administration. The money derives from the American Recovery Act which was passed last year.”

Wes Rosenbalm, president and chief executive officer of Bristol Virginia Utilities, said construction should begin soon.

“We will probably be finished in two to two-and-a-half years,” Rosenbalm said. “The beginning will be contingent upon when we have access to the funds. It is absolutely a win-win for Southwest Virginia. We are very appreciative of the NTIA, Congressman Boucher and the Virginia Tobacco Commission for having the faith and trust they have in us. We’ll get started on this soon.”

The new broadband deployment will further enhance an earlier broadband line developed in the region several years ago.

“With this broadband network, Bristol Virginia Utilities will enable service to  more than 120 of what we refer to as anchor institutions,” Boucher said. “That includes schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, major government facilities and other large public facilities. The new network will also come within two miles of 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. That makes it feasible for what we refer to as last mile service to be provided to these 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. Some of these have broadband today, but not all of them do.”

Boucher said the Virginia Tobacco Commission is providing $5.6 million in additional funding for the project with Bristol Virginia Utilities and the Virginia Department of Transportation covering the balance through in-kind contributions, including the use of VDOT right-of-ways for the broadband extension. Boucher was joined Friday by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., in announcing the broadband project.

“There will be 295 direct jobs created in the construction and deployment of the network, and then many more will be created in the long term as this network opens up to economic development many additional portions of Southwest Virginia.”

Boucher said the original broadband line deployed across the region several years ago has already helped to create a number of new jobs, including 137 new virtual call center jobs that have been created in the region by DirectTV, and another 700 plus jobs that have been created by the Northrop Grumman and CGI technology centers in Lebanon.

“Those jobs of course came through the efforts of Mark Warner when he was governor, and state Sen. Philllip Puckett,” Boucher said. “But they couldn’t have been in Lebanon had it not been for the fiber optic backbone. That made it possible. Both of these companies have very large needs of high speed data. We have since brought that fiber optic backbone up Route 19 and that goes to Bluefield and loops back around to Route 19.”

Boucher said the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park, which remains under construction in Tazewell County, also will benefit from the increased data and speed of the new broadband network.

“My economic development efforts are based on two things,” Boucher said. “The first is building infrastructure and the second is a direct company attraction and recruitment effort that is showcasing Southwest Virginia. You can never succeed in attracting technology jobs if you don’t have the basic infrastructure to work with. So building infrastructure is my priority. This is the single largest infrastructure grant for a single project that I’ve announced in 28 years in Congress. This infrastructure is essential to economic growth.”

Despite a difficult national economy, Boucher said technology based companies are still interested in locating into Southwest Virginia.

“I actually have companies I’m bringing to the region,” Boucher said. “This has been a very active year for our Showcasing Southwest Virginia (initiative). In addition to DirectTV we are getting really close to making more announcements. With this network in place, it expands the number communities we can now bring prospects to.”

Warner and Webb said the project will help to drive economic development in the eight county region for years to come.

“This broadband funding will create new opportunities for employment, education, and entrepreneurship in rural Virginia by wiring homes and businesses,” Webb said. “The Southwest Virginia Middle Mile Project will enable communities in southwestern Virginia to compete on a more level playing field and attract new businesses.” 

 “Access to reliable and affordable broadband allows our rural schools and small businesses to better compete in today’s global economy,” Warner added. “This investment helps to lay the foundation for expansion of high-speed Internet by tackling many of the ‘middle-mile’ issues in Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wythe counties.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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