By Mickey Gorman
Rockbridge County’s new fiber optic broadband network will eventually allow residents like Charles Bodie to access high-speed Internet connections from the comfort of their own homes.
Bodie, who lives in Kerrs Creek, said he drives at least 15 minutes to use the Internet at Leyburn Library in Lexington because the connection at his house is so poor.
“We have what is called dial-up, which is by the phone line, and when you use the Internet that way you have a long wait,” Bodie said. “There is a long delay of 30 minutes or more.
Bodie said he is excited for the arrival of a faster Internet connection, though he may have to wait a little longer.
The newly installed network will be tested in Lexington this week before going live in the city at the end of March. But parts of Rockbridge County will have to wait up to two years before having access to the network’s high-speed communication services.
The Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA), a group of leaders from Rockbridge County, Lexington and Buena Vista cities, and Washington and Lee University, formed in 2009 after receiving a federal grant to bring high speed Internet to the county.
RANA’s board of directors is hopeful that “a major portion” of Lexington will be ready to connect in March, said Dan Grim, the board secretary.
Grim said it was impossible to say exactly how much of Lexington’s fiber optic line will be ready following the tests.
Though early predictions pinned the project’s completion at the end of March, he said, installation setbacks pushed the deadline back.
Only portions of Lexington will have an operating fiber optic system by the end of next month. Fiber network construction should be completed in May, according to the RANA website.
Connecting to Fiber Optic in Lexington
After Lexington’s network is tested this week, city residents will have to wait for RANA to strike a deal with an Internet service provider before accessing the fiber optic line.
RANA will physically connect businesses and homes to the fiber optic line through in-ground installations. Private companies will provide the Internet and communication services.
Many of these companies are withholding their bids to provide services until the line is tested and running, said Hunt Riegel, RANA’s Rockbridge County representative.
Riegel said RANA board members feel that they are close to finalizing a deal with one local Internet service provider, Rockbridge Global Village.
“We are basically agreed in principal,” said Dusan Janjic, the President of Rockbridge Global Village. He said the lawyers are still working out the wording of the contract, but should be finished around April.
RANA plans to install as much of the fiber optic network as it can before the project’s $7 million federal stimulus grant runs out in July.
Plans for northern parts of the county
Parts of northern Rockbridge County will be excluded from the project until there are funds available to extend the network, Riegel said.
RANA plans to use revenue from operating the fiber optic network to fund these final stages of installation, he said.
Once the fiber optic network is up and running, Internet service providers will sign contracts with RANA to connect residents to the fiber optic line. RANA will receive a portion of the money from residents’ Internet bill payments, which will be used to fund the remaining installations.
Riegel said he expects RANA to make a profit by December and have money to connect the rest of the county within two years.
“It is what it is,” said Buffalo district supervisor John Higgins during the Rockbridge County board meeting on February 25. “I hope they can eventually get [fiber optic] service out to the county where they need it.”
The northern parts of the county will not be without “high-speed Internet” until then. County residents will have access to Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, cabinets that were installed in addition to fiber optic lines, Grim said.
The DSL cabinets were attached to telephone poles where the ground installation of the fiber optic line ran into trouble, he said.
DSL versus fiber optic broadband
DSL services carry the Internet signal to users through a copper wire, typically in the form of a phone line, while a fiber optic line is run through a glass filament installed in the ground.
A DSL line carries a limited amount of data because of its narrow bandwidth, or cable size, relative to a fiber optic line.
A fiber optic cable operating at full capacity will be two thousand times faster than a DSL cable operating at full capacity, Riegel said.
Most homes and businesses in Rockbridge County will never come close to transferring enough data to push the fiber optic network to its full capacity, he said.
Homeowners and business owners can expect service that is “six or seven times faster” than what they’re used to with the fiber optic network, Riegel said.
For previous coverage on RANA’s progress:
Broadband network moves forward despite early issues, October 2012
Broadband network cutbacks get glum reception, March 2012
Broadband’s reach curtailed, March 2012
Broadband expected to boost area economy, January 2012