Broadband Authority Plans to Expand Shore Internet Access

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By Stefanie Jackson – Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) Executive Director Robert Bridgham updated Northampton supervisors Sept. 22 on the public entity’s continued efforts to expand high-speed internet access across the Shore.

In 2018, ESVBA borrowed $5 million from a private bank to expand the network of fiber optic cable that connects government facilities, schools, businesses and – since 2017 – homes to broadband internet.

ESVBA had 320 miles of fiber optic cable running through Accomack and Northampton and now it’s up to 480 miles, or 50% more.

The two counties have a combined total of 19 incorporated towns, and when ESVBA’s latest project is complete, its services will be available at every address in those towns.

Bridgham said work needs to be completed in about two Accomack towns and part of Cheriton.

That will put ESVBA close to its current goal of offering high-speed internet to 70% of addresses on the Eastern Shore.

Neighbors who still can’t get ESVBA at their homes can band together and apply for ESVBA’s new Micro Communities program.

An interested group must submit its request in writing and identify the area to be considered, which homes want service, and which level of service each potential customer desires in megabits per second or Mbps. (ESVBA offers download/upload speeds of 10/5 Mbps, 25/12 Mbps, 50/25 Mbps, and 100/50 Mbps.)

Participating customers must be willing to commit to a two-year service plan.

ESVBA projects the amount of revenue it would receive from those customers in two years. For example, if five customers all want the 25/12 Mbps service for $59.99 a month, that would generate about $7,200 in revenue in two years.

ESVBA multiplies that dollar amount by 30%, which in the above example equals about $2,160.

If the amount exceeds the cost for ESVBA to extend fiber to those homes, then the group is pending approval for service; otherwise, the application is rejected.

If each neighbor is willing to add funds to the group’s bid, for example, $300 each, that increases the chance that fiber installation costs will be covered and the application will be approved.

Construction of underground fiber optic cable costs about $40,000 per mile, Bridgham noted.

Each customer in the group must sign a contract and pay an installation fee before the fiber is constructed and the homes are connected.

Accomack and Northampton County residents who cannot get ESVBA’s fiber-to-the-home service can still connect to the network for free at more than a dozen WiFi hotspots ESVBA provides up and down the Shore.

The names and locations of all ESVBA hotspots are:

  • Waterfront Park, 4077 Main St., Chincoteague
  • Bloxom Tower, 26129 Shore Main Drive, Bloxom
  • Parksley Town Pavilion, 18468 Dunne Ave., Parksley
  • Sawmill Park, 24387 Joynes Neck Road, Accomac
  • Mary N. Smith Center, 24577 Mary N. Smith Road, Accomac
  • Onancock Park, Market St., Onancock (between East St. and West St.)
  • Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, 19056 Parkway Road, Melfa
  • Accomack County Airport, 29194 Parkway North, Melfa
  • ESO Arts Center, 15293 King St., Belle Haven
  • ESVBA Main Office, 4174 Lankford Hwy., Exmore
  • Exmore Town Park, 3386 Main St., Exmore
  • Custis Park, Rescue Lane, Nassawadox
  • Indiantown Park, 7399 Indiantown Road, Eastville
  • Cape Charles Museum, 814 Randolph Ave., Cape Charles
  • Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center, 32383 Lankford Hwy., Cape Charles

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and roughly half of Eastern Shore public school students are participating in 100% virtual learning, the need for internet access is greater than ever.

ESVBA is working with the Accomack and Northampton school divisions and Eastern Shore Community College to determine where future hotspots should be located. WiFi hotspots have been requested at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Exmore, and Bayview Park, Cheriton.