Gloucester, Va., Considers County-Owned Broadband Network

The process will start with a survey to gauge what residents really need.

by Frances Hubbard, Daily Press / July 8, 2015

(TNS) — The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors discussed Tuesday night bringing wireless broadband service to more residents by possibly starting its own county-wide network.

That process will start with a survey to gauge what people really need.

Scott Varner, Gloucester's director of information technology, told the board Tuesday evening that residents have several options for Internet service in the county, but not all the providers reach everyone and some that do are costly and offer data usage caps.

During his presentation, Varner said Gloucester residents can get Internet service through Verizon DSL and Cox Cable. For areas those don't reach, service can come from Verizon 4G LTE and HughesNet but both offer those restrictive data caps.

"You can get access to high-speed Internet, you just can't get much access without paying an arm or a leg for it," said board vice-chairman John Meyer.

Broadband has been a topic of discussion on the Middle Peninsula for several years. The Middle Peninsula Broadband Authority was established in 2010 to find a solution to the region's lack of high-speed Internet availability and has included Gloucester, Mathews, Middlesex, King William and Essex counties.

King and Queen County decided to move forward with its own broadband initiative, the King and Queen County Wireless Authority, partnering with Gamewood Technology Group to provide wireless broadband coverage, in 2012, and according to Varner Gloucester could do the same.

King and Queen's network was built off of its 911 communication system and infrastructure.

Varner said Gloucester has four communication towers and one water tower that could be used to hold equipment at a cost of about $200,000 per tower.

Varner said each tower, based on his research and current technology, which he reminded is always changing and improving, could provide service to about 90 customers in a 5-mile radius.

A county-wide network, or possible Gloucester broadband authority, Varner said, would benefit teleworkers, offer an affordable option with no data caps and improve quality of life.

On the flip side, he said these systems will not make the county a lot of money. In addition, the county would be in competition with the current Internet providers.

Ashley Chriscoe, board chairman, said he hears complaints from parents with children who need Internet access for dual-enrollment or online classes but cannot get good service.

"We need to look at the hard numbers of people who would take what we could offer," he said.

No timeline was set Tuesday night for when the survey will be available and where.

©2015 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.