Cover Story

The Need For Speed

 

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative’s $27 Million Project Goes Live

by Christine Motley, Contributing Writer

A seed has been sown in rural Southside Virginia, and its crop — new technology and bright potential — is on the way.

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) has launched a $27 million broadband technology initiative, after four years of searching for innovative ways to fund and deliver high-speed broadband Internet access to largely rural Southside Virginia.

This Roots of Progress/Regional Backbone Initiative will provide 700 miles of new fiber-optic cable creating an advanced, open-access telecommunications infrastructure in Southside. The project will connect five cities, 20 counties, and 56 industrial parks; and will provide high-speed Internet access to nearly 700,000 Virginians and more than 19,000 businesses who do not now have it. The initiative will also reduce high-speed Internet access costs to businesses and consumers by at least 20 percent.

MBC’s effort is a strategic partnership with The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (VTICRC), the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), and Virginia’s Governor Mark R. Warner.

Construction will begin in October, with completion expected in January 2006.

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative was formed in November, 2003, to handle the grants for the project and secure contractors to design, build and support the multi-discipline telecommunications-network infrastructure. The idea of a cooperative managing a project of this nature is unique.

Sen. Charles Hawkins

“As a cooperative, we can provide wholesale dark fiber, manage high-speed broadband service, and increase competition for competitive local-exchange carriers and Internet service providers,” says David Hudgins, chairman for MBC and economic development manager for Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC). For citizens and businesses, this means substantial cost savings. “As a member cooperative, MBC will reinvest any profits into the communities the project touches and return dividends to its members.”

ODEC has been a catalyst behind the Roots of Progress/Regional Backbone Initiative by helping establish a cooperative and pledging staff and resources to the project since the idea was conceived in 2000.

Cooperatives like ODEC and MBC are owned and operated by their members, who live and work in the communities they serve; and cooperatives are governed by member-elected boards of directors.

Initiative’s economic impact will be substantial

The economic impact of MBC’s Roots of Progress/Regional Backbone Initiative  will be substantial. It will link the cities of Bedford, Danville, Emporia, Lynchburg and Martinsville, as well as the counties of Amelia, Appomattox, Bedford, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Franklin, Greensville, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward and Sussex. MBC anticipates that broadband access in these areas could create 1,560 new jobs, $70.2 million in new wages, and $143 million in new investments. 

Del. Clarke Hogan

These new technology-based jobs would carry wages 54 percent higher than the average wage rate in Southside Virginia. A Virginia Tech study projects that within three years after construction of the regional broadband backbone is complete, a minimum of two technology-based businesses will have located in 75 percent of the 35 targeted business, commercial and industrial parks. These technology-based businesses would have median employment of 30 people at an average wage of $45,000. The Virginia Tech study also projects that businesses would invest approximately $2,750,000 in plant renovation and development.

Economic impact is already visible. The initiative was announced and received $12 million in funding at a June 18 news conference in Danville. On July 20, MBC’s contractor, Adesta, LLC, broke ground at Riverstone Technology Park in South Boston where Halifax’s Industrial Development Authority will build an estimated $15 million building. Adesta, then, will establish a Network Operations and Control Center for the Roots of Progress/Regional Broadband Initiative. Adesta also plans to spend millions of dollars in capital and operating purchases with local suppliers in

Southside, fill 22 permanent technical jobs, and provide jobs for approximately 100 construction workers and engineers during construction and implementation of the network. 

Cited as national top-ten Economic Development initiative

“This Administration has been committed to advancing a progressive economic-development agenda for the Commonwealth, and this initiative will certainly get the attention of new employers and investors looking to tap the potential of Southside and Southwest Virginia,” says Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner. Virginia’s initiative was recently cited in Southern Business & Development magazine as one of the nation’s top-10 economic-development initiatives.

“Through ‘simple strands of fiber,’ we as a Commission comprised of citizens from one end of Virginia to the other made a decision,” says Del. Clarke N. Hogan, chairman of the technology committee for VTICRC. “This project connects our communities to the information age, opens an era of new economic opportunity, and invests a once-in-a-lifetime allocation to a project that can invigorate the imagination to the new possibilities of growing what some have called ‘the industries of the mind.’ With this investment in telecommunications infrastructure, from here, you can be anywhere.”

A Model For The Future

Furthermore, this initiative will serve as a national model for rural economic development. Funded with an initial investment of $6 million each from the VTICRC and EDA, this initiative is among the most creatively beneficial uses of funds from the national tobacco settlement.

“Certainly, this initiative is the cornerstone investment by the Tobacco Commission, and will serve as a testament to the commitment of not only the Commission, but the Commonwealth, to the economic revitalization of Southside Virginia,” says Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, chairman of the Commission. “Coupled with our grants for the broadband telecommunications links in Southwest Virginia, we are creating a seamless network that will literally connect most of rural Virginia to the rest of the planet. It will open new markets for entrepreneurs, enhance the competitiveness of our existing businesses, and attract the types of employers we need to prepare our communities for the new century.”

“The economic revitalization of Southside and Southwest Virginia is a puzzle, and this is one, albeit significant, piece of that puzzle,” adds Carthan F. Currin, III, Virginia Tobacco Commission executive director. “This project, coupled with other investments, will allow companies to discover the benefits of doing business in this part of the nation and world. In that regard, we are completing the circle of initiatives, but only beginning the implementation of a comprehensive strategy for economic renewal.”

Fast facts

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The Virginia Tobacco Commission and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative began their search for solutions to the digital divide in June 2000.

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$12 million in funds ($6 million from the Tobacco Commission and $6 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration) were secured and the project was officially announced in Danville, VA.

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Economic development impact is already taking place as evidenced by the July 20 announcement in South Boston that Halifax’s Industrial Development Authority will build an estimated $15 million  building, where Adesta, LLC, will establish a Network Operations and Control Center.

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Adesta, LLC, will also spend millions in capital and operating purchases with Southside suppliers, fill 22 permanent technical jobs, and provide jobs for approximately 100 construction workers and engineers.

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The total $27 million initiative will lay 700 miles of new fiber-optic cable and link five cities, 20 counties and 56 industrial parks.

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The project, scheduled for completion in January 2006, will provide high-speed Internet access to  nearly 700,000 Virginians and more than 19,000 businesses at a minimum cost savings of 20%.

 

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