High-speed internet in the pipeline for Halifax
Halifax County residents will be hearing more about the Halifax County Board of Supervisors’ plans to implement broadband internet access across the county in the coming year. On Friday morning, ED-7 Supervisor Garland Ricketts and ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis, members of the supervisors’ broadband ad hoc committee, County Administrator Jim Halasz and Finance Director Stephanie Jackson met with representatives of Stewart Computer Services (SCS) Broadband Internet Service to learn more about plans to bring broadband internet to county residents. This same company is in the process of expanding active service this month to Pittsylvania County residents who live near White Oak Mountain.
Clay Stewart, president of the company, outlined goals of Halifax County in partnership with SCS Broadband to implement a robust internet network that provides affordable and sufficient internet to unserved areas of the county. The company plans to supply county residents with unlimited data on plans starting at $34.95 at 10Mbs minimum with a wireless to fiber internet connection. It also will offer custom speed plans of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbs.
Home wireless plans also will provide redundant backhaul wireless and fiber paths with a centralized customer service call center to answer questions. Plans call for leasing towers across the county, but preferably it will not include commercial towers due to the high costs, Stewart explained. So far, Davis said he has received a verbal commitment from the Brookneal Town Manager to allow use of that town’s water tower to help serve northern Halifax County residents.
Another commitment for tower use has come from Clover Power Plant, according to the county administrator. A tower on White Oak Mountain in nearby Pittsylvania County, scheduled to be in use later this month, also will be an asset utilized in bringing broadband internet service to county residents, Stewart said. The tower’s radio equipment will send out two different radio frequencies in order to provide the best service. The Long Term Evolution technology signal reaches 25 miles in diameter around the tower, and the other reaches 30 miles in diameter.
Stewart explained the boxes they use to cover the equipment placed on the towers are resistant to multiple strikes of lightning, which will protect the equipment and keep service going even in a storm. Pittsylvania County is the first county the company is investing in for this equipment, Stewart said. Here in Halifax County, he explained urgent needs include underserved residents and businesses, augmenting educational requirements, improving connectivity for fire and rescue and improving connectivity to the library.
The Phase I timeline for implementing broadband in the county could start between the fourth quarter of this year through the second quarter of 2018, Stewart said with project startups including partnership priority agreements. What comes next will be the company verifying all available tower leases, ordering tower engineering approval, obtaining all required FCC permits, verifying and selecting fiber connections, requisitioning project materials, beginning deployment on towers, connecting residents and businesses, determining library options and installing a county fire department and rescue solution. Stewart said some towers “can be done in two months, while other times it takes three to four months.”
He also pointed out the height of the towers “is everything,” and becomes really important depending on its location. When looking to locate its company’s fiber connection on towers, Stewart said engineers look for “the sweet spot.”
Phase II would involve expansion of the wireless network sometime after the second quarter of 2018 with Phase III – wireless network external extensions in Pittsylvania, Campbell and Charlotte – taking place in the third quarter of 2018.
Following the meeting, County Administrator Halasz cautioned county residents not to be expecting to be able to connect to broadband internet this fall.
“This is a very high priority for the board, but we don’t want expectations to be too high. This is a work in progress. It’s not going to happen by the first of October,” he added.
Davis is expected to give a status report from the committee’s Friday morning meeting to the full board of supervisors on Monday night during the regular monthly meeting, and SCS representatives are slated to make a presentation on implementation plans to the full board at its Sept.