By Kylee Sapp
Efforts to bring high-speed broadband Internet to Rockbridge County residents are moving slowly but surely, said Manager of Finance and Member Services at BARC Electric Cooperative Dave Clinton.
He said BARC is currently in the financing stage of the project. First, the company contacted members to see if they’d be interested in broadband. The second stage was design, which Clinton said took almost a year. The next stage will be construction, assuming the financing is approved.
“We’ve got an application pending with the federal government,” he said. “As soon as that’s approved, the effort to gear up toward construction will move very quickly. We would hope to begin construction in 2016.”
Clinton hopes to hear back from the government within the next month, although he said the government is late in responding.
BARC, an electric cooperative based in Virginia that also serves Maryland and Delaware, decided to bring broadband to its customers because it’s bringing fibers into the Rockbridge area anyway in order to bring high speed Internet to its substations.
“That’s the genesis of that idea,” Clinton said. “If we’re going to bring the fiber there anyway why not do it in a way that benefits the customers, the community… it doesn’t take too much more to allow customers to be served off of that fiber.”
Broadband will offer customers a much higher quality of Internet service than many are receiving right now.
“You can get Internet; you can get video,” Clinton said. “There are ways to get at least some level of service in [areas of Rockbridge County] but the ability to get high speed service in that area, very economical service, especially something that can compete with what we’re offering, is very limited.”
When the project was beginning, BARC sent a survey to its customers, asking if high speed Internet was something that would interest them. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so BARC moved ahead.
Not only will customers see faster Internet, they will also not see much of a price difference.
Early calculations show that prices for the high-speed services should be similar to what is charged for lower quality DSL or wireless services. With broadband, Clinton said, people will be getter a higher quality service at a competitive price.
But BARC isn’t the first to try to bring broadband to the Rockbridge Area.
The Rockbridge Area Network Authority started a project to bring broadband to the Rockbridge area several years ago. The project was originally going to cover 120 fiber miles, but had to scale back to around 75 miles of fiber.
The RANA project covers Raphine, Lexington, Buena Vista, Natural Bridge and Glasgow. Anyone who lives within a few miles of one of the cables can pay a one-time fee to have fiber installed at their home or business.
RANA Secretary Scott Robertson estimated that the fee is generally between $800-$1000. Although this may seem pricy, he said there could be a benefit in the future.
“Nationally there’s information that says that having direct fiber access from your home adds as much as $5000 to the value of it,” he said.
Although only people who live close to the cables are eligible for broadband from RANA, Robertson said people who live in more rural areas will still be able to get broadband through BARC.
Two years ago, RANA received a loan from Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County to operate the broadband project. Robertson said that although the loans are still on their books, RANA has not been back for additional money in over a year.
Robertson said that RANA began this project to help citizens and business owners.
“The county decided to apply for and execute this project because the county was a very underserved area in terms of broadband access,” he said.
Washington and Lee University also benefits from RANA’s broadband project.
“W&L was a partner because they wanted to help attract additional long-haul network providers into the area.” Robertson said.