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Broadband controversy

Counties watching legislative proposal

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Surry and Isle of Wight county officials are closely watching House Bill 2108, which could affect a locality’s ability to provide broadband services. Anything that adds restrictions to a locality’s ability to bring something of great importance is a concern, said Surry County Administrator Tyrone Franklin. Surry is in the midst of negotiations with SCS Broadband to rent space on a tower constructed by Surry County.

If negotiations are successful, most areas in the rural county will have access to high speed internet.

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Isle of Wight aiming to lure broadband providers through new 911 dispatch system

Isle of Wight County hopes to lure tech businesses to the area by offering radio tower access, including broadband host areas, at its new emergency dispatch radio towers, planned to go up next year. The county has signed an $8 million contract with Motorola to rebuild the county’s emergency dispatch system, likely next year. This will include the construction of five new radio towers that can also accommodate two service providers each, such as ATT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or other types of technology, according to Terry Hall, a project manager and director of York County Emergency Communications. Hall believes there will be strong competition among wireless companies to bridge a digital gap in the county.

“I have a carrier that has great coverage, and I drop calls over here on occasion,” Halls said at a Board of Supervisors meeting last week. “You can bet there’s going to be somebody trying to fill that in.”

The county began planning improvements to the communication and public safety system more than two years ago. Currently, Charter Communications is the lone broadband provider for the county. Changes to the county’s radio communication will include the construction of a new sheriff’s office, new mobile and portable radios and five new radio towers. Tower locations under consideration include Nike Park, Woody Way, Fair Ground and Holly Run.

The Holly Run location will require the county to lease land. Hall told the board this money could be made up from revenue brought in by service provers that would utilize the site. Using the revenue to offset or pay for the lease is a common trend in public safety, Hall said. He estimated vendors pay $23,000 a year per site they use. Hall said they’ve applied for a grant of $250,000 for the 911 system.

“We may be able to get $150,000 or $175,000 dollars of that,” Hall said. “We’re going after every dime we can, and as grants come up, we’re going to continue to apply for them.”

Supervisor William McCarty said the ability to host wireless companies that can provide broadband could be a great thing for the county.

“To bring other services, such as broadband, enhances so many things, from economic development to citizen life,” McCarty said. “This is a great opportunity for us.”

Project managers are finishing geotechnical surveys that include information about soil consistency, structure and groundwater level. They are also working to secure the permits the county needs for the project, including federal, environmental and historical permits. Next steps include purchasing mobile and portable radios, Hall said. The trickiest part of the project is obtaining the permits, because a hold up on one could stall everything else, Hall said.

“The timeline is for us to launch between now and the end of next calendar year,” Hall said. “And that is very aggressive. We’re very hopeful we’re going to be able to make that.

Right now, today, it’s on the roadmap to be able to do that.”

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663.

Regions with worst broadband speeds ‘use modern services the least’

People in areas with slow broadband connections tend to use modern online services the least, a new study has found. According to King’s College London, online logs show that usage of the BBC’s catch-up service iPlayer is relatively low in South Ayrshire, Ards, the Isle of Wight and East Riding of Yorkshire. Analysts then compared this data with Ofcom’s nationwide broadband speed figures and found all these locations had slower connections.

The study also showed that iPlayer usage is greatest in areas with relatively fast broadband speeds, such as London, south Gloucestershire and Bristol.

Dr Nishanth Sastry, the Lead Researcher on the study, commented: “It is clear that high-speed broadband is an important factor in the use of bandwidth-intensive applications such as BBC iPlayer.

“With technological advancements, it is likely that more services important to daily life will move online, yet there is a significant proportion of the population with inadequate broadband connections who won’t be able to access such services.”

Dr Sastry added that while the government has initiated funding schemes for improving rural broadband access as part of the National Broadband Strategy, the results highlight how more needs to be done to ensure universal quality.