Charter/Spectrum Amplifies Rural Broadband Initiative

Published 3:45 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Charter/Spectrum continues its efforts to provide broadband services to the rural areas of Suffolk. During Suffolk City Council’s work session on Wednesday, Nov. 15, Director of Government Affairs for Charter Communications Eric Collins provided an update on the telecommunications company’s continued construction progress to address the need for broadband services in the area.

“Look forward to every three or four months coming to provide you an update of Charter’s efforts in our rural broadband construction activity that’s going on in the very rural areas of the City of Suffolk, understanding that from your continuants, the need for access for broadband,” Collins said. “The RDOF [Rural Digital Opportunity Fund] and the VADI [Virginia Telecommunication Initiative] grant agreement that we applied for and won has made a way for us to be able to provide those services out in the rural community.”

RDOF and VADI grants have served as funding sources for broadband construction projects. Created by the federal government and administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), RDOF is a program designed to help provide high-speed broadband access to rural communities. 

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VATI, announced by Former Gov. Ralph S. Northam in 2021 as the 2022 Virginia Telecommunications Initiative Grant Awards, was submitted by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission on behalf of the City of Suffolk and both Isle of Wight and Southampton Counties. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) administers the program and provides an extensive application process for local governments and internet/cable providers. Top applicants are reviewed and selected by the DHCD to receive funding.

Collins detailed the project progression, noting that Spectrum has built approximately 248 miles of network in the City of Suffolk. Likewise, he said that Spectrum has released and activated over 2,200 passings in the city’s rural areas.

“As a reminder, we’re building in the very rural areas of the city all the way to the North Carolina line, and also we’re not building it aerial, we’re building everything completely underground,” Collins said. 

Collins also talked about encountering “five different delays” with railroad companies.

“Typically, in the past, railroad permits have taken somewhere up to a year to get approved to get those permits. We realized when we did the design and when we did the build we understood those areas that were what we needed to cross railroad tracks, and we started the permit process early. Even though we started the permit process early, considering that time frame, the railroad companies did work with us to get those permits expedited,” Collins said. “The five issues that we had in the City of Suffolk was not the permit itself. It was trying to get the railroad companies to be on-site to control traffic.”

Collins said that, fortunately, the railroad sites were to be on site that Wednesday and the following Thursday and Friday after discussions with the railroad companies. Collins then presented a map detailing the broadband project area, which included the City of Suffolk, Isle of Wight County, and the City of Franklin. 

“If you look at the shaded areas that does not have grid lines in them, those are the areas that we have completed. Within those areas, you’ll see green dots, and you’ll see some pink dots in those areas as well,” Collins said. “Those green dots are households that now have access to broadband and they include those areas that were [the] RDOF bill that we received from the federal government. Within that you’ll see some pink dots. So, within that, those are extensions to the VADI award bill that we built. The remaining pink dots that you see are the areas that we have yet to build that we’re going to be getting to.”

On what to expect next, Collins followed up that construction and fiber splicing will continue. Arrangements for home interior and exterior installation were also identified as a priority. 

The next project update is set for early spring 2024.

For more information, visit suffolkva.us/1595/City-of-Suffolk-Broadband-Initiatives