Shentel a step closer to providing broadband in the city

Published 3:32 pm Thursday, March 17, 2022

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Planning Commissioners couldn’t hide their disdain for the city’s current broadband provider while unanimously recommending a conditional use permit for another to set up shop in Suffolk.

Shentel’s permit request is to establish a utility facility on properties on South 5th Street, just off of East Washington Street, covering about 13,200 square feet. The staff report from the city’s planning office states that the properties are currently vacant. City Council is expected to take up Shentel’s conditional use permit request at its April 20 meeting,

Council last year unanimously approved a three-year right-of-way license agreement that will allow the Edinburg-based company, formally known as Shenandoah Cable Television LLC, to operate in the city. 

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Company officials have described its Glo Fiber network as a 100% fiber network offering high-speed bandwidth, along with symmetrical bandwidth, meaning upload and download speeds would be equal.

The South 5th Street location would serve as a fiber optic point of presence site for Shentel’s Glo Fiber broadband service and plans to install a 30-foot by 60-foot fenced compound with access on South 5th Street. Inside it will be a 336-square-foot equipment shelter that will have the needed fiber optic equipment, a 45-foot utility pole and a backup generator. The utility pole will have antennas on top and will be used to send and receive local channels for surrounding residential and business services. 

Company officials said no full-time employees would be onsite, though Shentel would have employees onsite during construction and up to twice per month for routine maintenance visits. It will also have one turnaround and parking space. 

Potentially, Shentel could add another 336 square foot equipment shelter and a 25-foot-by-60-foot compound expansion. 

The company, in the application for the conditional use permit, anticipates noise levels between 60 and 70 decibels – higher than the range for a residential area, according to the staff report – and noise levels of 40 to 50 decibels after construction. The backup generator has a noise level similar to a home HVAC unit – 74 decicbels at 23 feet away at a full load. It will be in use for weekly testing at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and will otherwise only be on for emergencies. 

Shentel senior network engineer Billy Hume said it looked to start its service in the South 5th Street area because the company needs to be centrally located, and the real estate market dictated where it could locate.

“In this real estate market, that’s about the only thing we could find,” Hume said. “In a lot of locations, we have gone into residential areas where we work with the local planning department, have it rezoned to where it fits our needs.”

Hume said the company would have to return to the commission in the future so it can add other facilities in other parts of the city. 

“We do have distance limitations on this fiber,” Hume said. “Where it’s located, we will be able to serve the greater part of Suffolk, but then the parts up … northwest, we’ll have to do something different there, not quite a facility such as this, but a little smaller.”

The staff report by the city’s planning department recommended approval of the conditional use permit. 

Commissioner Oliver Creekmore said Spectrum, which currently provides broadband service in the city, could use competition and asked how Shentel would compare.

Hume said Shentel would be a direct competitor to Spectrum, which currently provides broadband service in the city. He said the company plans to eventually serve the entire city. 

“We are a traditional cable company in other localities,” Hume said. “But here we will be building fiber and high speed internet, video and telephone (and be) a direct competitor to Spectrum or whoever else may be here.”

Hume said Shentel would like to be able to provide its broadband service in at least some parts of the city by the end of this year. 

“I can’t say we’d be serving the whole city by the end of the year,” Hume said, “but there’s certain parts, that as an internal milestone, we want to have it turned up by the end of the year to hit some of our numbers as well.”

Previously, Shentel officials said it would look to provide broadband service in several areas of the city. Those areas include 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, the Godwin Boulevard area near Chuckatuck and the Isle of Wight County line and then southeast toward downtown.

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

Hume said the facility would need to be operational by September or October so it could start to get customers signed up. 

Commissioner Johnnie Edwards advised the company to speak with residents in the area 

“You have to understand, we have to build fiber,” Hume said. “We have nothing here. We pretty much have to go out and permit all the poles and build fiber, whereas you’ve got the existing telephone company, the existing cable company, they’ve got all lthe poles permitted. We’ve got to do all of that from nothing. We’re working with the pole providers to build that fiber so it can serve the customers.”

Commissioner Anita Hicks asked how Shentel would be able to compete with Spectrum. 

“Our executives have run the numbers,” Haun said. “We’re not only doing this in Suffolk. We’re doing this in other areas as well, in Virginia, Pennsylvania. It’s just a part of being competitive.”