A broadband boost for Pittsylvania

May 19 was a landmark day for residents of Pittsylvania County: It was the day ground was broken in Blairs for a project designed to bring broadband internet access to unserved or underserved rural areas of the county. County leaders staged a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony on the site of a soon-to-be-built communications tower that will be part of a network of such towers that will open the world to now isolated sections of Pittsylvania. And with that opening could come new investment, new jobs and new opportunities for the county and its residents.

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Corp. is a key component of Pittsylvania’s rural broadband project. For almost two decades, MBC has been the creator of the “middle mile” of broadband access across Southside Virginia with its fiber optic network throughout the region. The “middle mile” is the crucial link between major internet access points and local internet service providers.

It’s also the most expensive buildout portion of the link, though with public-private partnerships, MBC has worked to share those costs with would-be local ISPs interested in a certain market. That’s how MBC and the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors cooperated to bring this new project to fruition. Earlier, the supervisors awarded SCS Broadband, based in Arrington in Nelson County, the contract as the ISP for the project.

SCS uses a combination of terrestrial and wireless-to-fiber connections to serve customers in rural areas of Virginia, areas overlooked by the major broadband players because they’re simply too difficult and/or too costly to serve. In that sense, SCS functions very much like an electric cooperative in the early days of rural electrification in America. The buildout of the project should be complete within 12 to 18 months.

SCS will be placing its equipment on county-owned towers and working with the county public school system and volunteer fire department to identify any other usable tall objects that could be used to push out the wireless signal. We have long argued that broadband internet access should be viewed in the same light as rural electrification was in the 1930s. That was when President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration to bring electric power to rural America.

He knew that electricity would be the catalyst to pull the rural hinterland out of the throes of the Great Depression and lay the foundation for its entry into the modern, 20th century economy. That is essentially the potential of broadband access today: a fundamental utility of the modern, 21st century economy that all parts of the country should have access to and at a reasonable cost. Indeed, one could make the argument that government should regulate ISPs in much the same way as electric companies today to ensure they operate in the best interest of the public.

Bob Warren, chairman of the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors, put it best: “Today’s groundbreaking is not only the beginning of fiber construction, it’s for the new jobs and investments that will be made in the rural areas of the county due to improved internet services. … The implications of this lengthy project will be truly limitless.” Limitless, indeed.

For residents, schoolchildren, businesses, entrepreneurs … the door to the 21st century economy is about to swing open.

And not a moment too soon.

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