Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 11, 2013

Initial phase of 4G wireless communications in Southwest Virginia complete

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — \The initial phase of a multi-million dollar wireless communications network upgrade for Southwest Virginia has been completed.

The Virginia Coalfield Coalition working in conjunction with its implementation partners has completed the upgrade of 15 existing wireless towers in the coalition’s seven county Southwest Virginia region. It 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.

The project is being funded by a $11 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. When completed, the multi-year project will provide enhanced communications services to 200,000 residents, 95,00 households and 2,600 private non-farm businesses, Terry Kilgore, chairman of the tobacco commission, said in a coalition press release.

“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.

The expanded 4G service will be a tremendous benefit to Tazewell County, according to County Administrator Jim Spencer.

“I know Cumberland Plateau has been working on this project with BVU (Bristol Virginia Utilities) for quite a while,” Spencer said. “The county’s mission statement is to basically enhance the quality of life for our citizens. And broadband, cell phone coverage and those kind of things today are a part of that quality of life issue. So we are real excited about this.”

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.”

The project is believed to be among the nation’s first full-scale deployment of a 4G network in a rural market. It will provide improved wireless coverage in the region, and expand the reach of broadband services to areas that are under served or do not currently have high-speed Internet service, according to a coalition press release. Those residents living in the recently completed phase one service area should notice an immediate improvement in Internet speeds for their 4G enabled wireless devices.

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 are the BVU (Bristol Virginia Utilities) Authority, Scott County Telephone, and G4S Technology.

Additional new build-to-suit towers will be deployed at yet-to-be determined locations once the network is stable and overall coverage needs can be re-evaluated, the coalition press release said.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com