Starving for fast Internet

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, August 1, 2013

Whenever and wherever it happens around the city, the appearance of flags marking future utility work always prompts calls to this newspaper from folks wondering — almost desperately in some cases — whether fiber optic lines are being installed for broadband Internet service.

Until recently, the answer to that question has never given the callers much reason for hope. After an initially quick expansion into portions of Hampton Roads a few years back, Verizon stopped adding to its FiOS network, for all intents and purposes leaving Suffolk out of the loop. Cable Internet service is available in parts of the city, but not everywhere, and even where it’s available, some folks would prefer to have a choice.

For the remote portions of the city, the only real solution is satellite service, whose speeds do not offer the kind of boost needed to enjoy much of the World Wide Web today, where streaming video and audio are almost impossible to avoid today.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

So it was exciting when Suffolk City Council heard recently of a project by Mid-Atlantic Broadband, which is running fiber optic cable along Route 460 in a bid to provide high-speed connectivity to schools in Southside Virginia, primarily west of Suffolk.

Mid-Atlantic president and chief executive officer Tad Deriso told a reporter last week that even though the primary beneficiaries of the project — which was funded through the federal stimulus program — are located to the west, Suffolk could still benefit from it.

“If you have a home and you’re kind of out there, your choices right now are either dial-up or nothing,” Deriso said. “The nice thing is, since this network is there, it allows any kind of technology that’s coming through to hop off the network and go serve the various communities.”

But it’s not a done deal, either, and the hurdles between most folks in Suffolk and broadband Internet probably will remain too high to clear for a long time. Verizon or some other company would have to be convinced of the commercial viability of tapping into the new fiber optic lines and distributing their signal to neighborhoods located away from Route 460, and it seems safe to assume that the more remote the neighborhood the more remote the chances of finding someone willing to take on the financial risks involved with such a project.

Still, the iron is hot — or at least warm — and Suffolk’s City Council should take the opportunity to politely remind Verizon about the 35,000 or so households in Suffolk that represent a fresh new market, starved for fast, competitively priced Internet access.