City officials expect all city residents to have access to broadband in the next several years
Published 2:50 pm Saturday, March 5, 2022
City Council received an overview of where Suffolk’s broadband initiatives stand during a March 2 work session.
Randah Gaitan, a senior administrative analyst with the city, reviewed the $21.1 million award of a regional Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant the city, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County received in December in a joint effort from the three localities, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Charter Communications, which operates under the Spectrum brand in Suffolk.
Gaitan said the city is due to execute its contract with the planning district commission by April 26 following council approval at its April 6 meeting.
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She noted that the walk-out phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund initiative is in the final stage, and will be followed by data being submitted to engineers and design work beginning. When that is finished, Charter will know what types of permits and right-of-ways it will need for both projects.
“A great thing for the city of Suffolk is that the VATI and RDOF will be being built out together at the same time,” Gaitan said. “So we can look at completion sooner rather than later.”
Charter has completed the infrastructure of its CARES Act-funded broadband project and is currently completing its punch-list and doing restoration work in needed areas.
Gaitan said 386 residents have been able to sign up for broadband and other services from Spectrum since the project finished.
Edinburg-based Shentel will also add to the city’s broadband portfolio, with council previously approving a three-year right-of-way licensing agreement to allow it to operate and install its GloFiber broadband network in the city.
Regina Chandler, the city’s interim director of information technology, reviewed the city’s plans for broadband expansion through its partnership with the Southside Network Authority.
Council unanimously approved a resolution in January authorizing City Manager Al Moor to execute the authority project participation agreement to build a multimillion-dollar fiber ring around five South Hampton Roads cities, including Suffolk.
The move had been two years in the making, and construction is expected to begin by the middle of the year, with scheduled completion sometime in 2023.
As part of the agreement, Moor, as the council’s appointee to the authority’s board of directors, is authorized to buy up to five shares of the project on behalf of the city as part of the cost-sharing agreement of the project.
All of the participating cities have approved the authority’s cost-sharing agreement and project participation, and have allocated money for the project.
When it’s finished, the network ring will connect transatlantic subsea cables coming from Spain and Cape Town, South Africa to the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Suffolk. The fiber ring will be 119 miles long, with 35 miles of it in Suffolk, extending in a loop from Virginia Beach to Suffolk. In future years, the ring could potentially expand west to Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County.
Chandler said the authority chose a dual-path approach to the project, deciding to work with the cities to finance and award a $24.5 million construction contract for the ring to Danella Construction. That phase should be complete by March. It also awarded a phase two contract to Columbia Telecommunications Corp. to design the project and perform construction oversight as the authority’s engineering partner.
The authority will also be entering into negotiations this month with Global Technical Systems on a public-private partnership to operate and market the fiber ring, Chandler said.
The city has also established a broadband website, www.suffolkva.us/broadband.
Mayor Mike Duman said the various projects involve local, regional, state and federal efforts. He said in 18 months to two years, all of the city’s population will have the opportunity to receive broadband access.
“This has been a long time coming,” Duman said, “and a lot of effort over the years.”