City to get new broadband provider

Published 10:54 pm Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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A new broadband provider from the Shenandoah Valley aims to provide connections for city residents.

City Council unanimously approved at its Sept. 15 meeting a three-year right-of-way license agreement for Shentel that will allow the Edinburg-based company, more formally known as Shenandoah Cable Television LLC, to operate in the city.

The agreement has been about 10 months in the making, according to Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes.

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He noted the city’s multi-faceted strategy to increase broadband access in Suffolk and said it would provide competition — currently the only broadband provider in the city is Charter Communications, which operates under the Spectrum brand in the city — and new service locations.

“It’s more options in more locations,” Hughes said.

Various city officials and staff have been involved in the efforts to bring Shentel to the city, Hughes said, including the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office, city Information Technology and other staff.

The city also retained outside counsel as it relates to telecommunications because of the specific nature of the proposal.

Shentel plans to install what it calls its Glo Fiber network, a 100% fiber network offering high-speed bandwidth, along with symmetrical bandwidth, meaning upload and download speeds would be equal.

Hughes said over the course of the last 10 months, the city had spoken to several other broadband providers but found Shentel “to be extremely responsive and open to what our needs  are in the city of Suffolk, and so, it really began to steer our interactions more with Shentel than anyone else.”

Within six months, Hughes said the city will begin to put together and finalize a cable franchise agreement with Shentel “that will speak to a little more specificity related to regulations that we can expand the network.”

Shentel will still have to apply for a right-of-way permit before construction can begin.

Shentel would look to provide broadband service in several areas of the city, including from the James River through the Harbour View/Bridge Road area in the northern end of the city, down Shoulders Hill Road and Nansemond Parkway near the city line with Chesapeake, as well as the Godwin Boulevard area near Chuckatuck and the Isle of Wight County line and southeast toward downtown.

It would also look to provide service in the central growth area and then down Holland Road near the industrial development there.

“This would represent an entrance into the market,” Hughes said.

Chris Kyle, the company’s vice president, said this agreement was a first step in entering the Suffolk broadband market.

“We want to come in here (and) we want to build a fiber network,” Kyle said.

He described the project as possibly transformative for the city.

“This is not an easy project,” Kyle said. “This is the first step. There’s going to be lots of permitting, there’s gonna be lots of construction afterward.”

He said that once it gets started, Shentel would like to work with the city to apply for state grant money in the next cycle of funding next year to expand broadband service into the southern part of the city.