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Roanoke Free Press
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Regional broadband task force announces recommendations for high-speed network

William Fralin, president and CEO of Medical Facilities of America and a member of the task force.

William Fralin, president and CEO of Medical Facilities of America and a member of the task force.

ROANOKE, Va. (February 6, 2013) – Greater access to an affordable high-speed broadband network in the Roanoke Valley took a step forward today with the adoption of recommendations that include forming a regional Broadband Authority to increase affordable access to broadband technologies.

The Roanoke Valley Fiber/Broadband Task Force, comprised of business leaders and local governments, developed recommendations in the nine months following the release of a study, which can be found at www.highspeedroanoke.com. The study showed that the Roanoke Region is lagging behind other surrounding communities when it comes to affordable broadband access.

The task force is recommending the creation of a regional Broadband Authority to implement a number of objectives to expand the infrastructure of broadband throughout the region while making it easier for existing broadband providers to deploy their technology. The proposed authority would be created by interested localities in the Roanoke Valley under the Virginia’s Wireless Service Authority Act.

“With the continued growth of the Internet and ever-increasing appetite for bandwidth, we need to develop a plan that addresses our current and future needs to accelerate the growth of our regional economy and attract new businesses and residents,” said William Fralin, president and CEO of Medical Facilities of America and a member of the task force.

“This access to reasonably-priced, high-speed Internet has the potential to better prepare students to enter the work force, improve the economic viability of home-based business and ultimately attract new businesses and residents while encouraging local business growth.”

The task force’s comprehensive recommendations are to:

  • Identify and reach out to large companies, institutions and broadband users to broaden stakeholder support.
  • Develop a master plan for construction and operation of a high-speed, redundant regional network ring. The network should reach schools, industrial parks, large employers and other economic centers.
  • Develop cooperative agreements for localities with technical specifications and commercial terms for operating the network and for exchanging data across municipal boundaries.
  • Develop and implement “dig once” requirements for construction projects, including the placement of open-access conduit for optical fiber cable.
  • Explore the creation of policies and/or agreements with Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech for open access to high-speed Internet in their adjacent communities.
  • Work with the New River Valley and other adjacent communities that are supporting existing broadband and fiber deployments.
  • Communicate broadband-related activities and technology to the public. 

To improve the availability of low-cost broadband for residents and businesses in the region, the task force recommends:

  • Encouraging the rapid deployment of DOCIS 3.0 by cable operators to increase the bandwidth at an affordable cost to cable subscribers.
  • Streamlining permitting of towers for Long Term Evolution (LTE), marketed as 4G LTE, to increase the availability of wireless broadband with emphasis on rural areas.
  • Promoting open access to encourage competitive and diverse offerings of Internet services.
  • Working with Virginia Tech, Western Virginia Water Authority and other entities to conduct an asset inventory related to wireless technology deployment.
  • Identifying wireless opportunities and partnerships to provide broadband opportunities to underserved areas.
  • · Working with existing providers to streamline regulations/permitting an encourage affordable service options
  • · Considering a request for information for an open-access, fiber-to-the-home network and carefully examine the viability of such a network in the Roanoke Valley.

The task force also wants to explore the need and economic feasibility of developing one or more data centers in the region.

Now that the task force has recommended that localities consider forming an authority, the governing bodies of interested local governments would have to adopt a resolution to create the authority. This idea is common in Virginia. At least six regions have existing broadband authorities, including the New River Valley and Rockbridge County.

“The recommendations we are outlining today, developed with careful consideration, will ensure that we thrive as a region with the latest technology to improve our standing in a competitive environment where accessible and affordable broadband creates ideas and jobs,” said Salem Mayor Randy Foley.

“I’m especially pleased throughout this process to work closely and cooperatively with business leaders and all Roanoke Valley municipalities to do what’s right for our region,” Foley added. “Forming an authority is a cooperative regional effort, demonstrating how our local governments can, and in fact do, work together.”

Virginia Tech also applauded the group’s efforts to address the need for high-quality network connectivity at an affordable price for all users.

“Such technology is necessary to meet the evolving needs of the citizenry and to create an environment conducive to growth and innovation in the research and private sectors,” the university said in a statement. “We will continue to be supportive of their efforts as we have throughout the endeavor by providing technical expertise and knowledge generated by our experiences working with other communities where needed and when it is appropriate to do so. As the initiative moves forward, we will evaluate our role in the process to ensure that it represents the best interests of both the community and Virginia Tech.”

Wayne Strickland, executive director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, which released the broadband study last May with the backing of Botetourt and Roanoke counties and the cities of Roanoke and Salem, added: “The recommendations being released today are an important step toward building infrastructure that attracts business and mobilizes the region to enhance economic vitality and quality of life.”

The study, “Roanoke Valley-Moving Forward at the Speed of Light,” was supported financially by the City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, Greater Roanoke Valley Development Foundation, Roanoke Valley Development Corporation, City of Salem, Roanoke Regional Partnership, Botetourt County and businesses and individuals, including Medical Facilities of America, Roanoke Gas, Boxley, Anna Lawson, Grand Piano, Roanoke Times, Ed Walker, Carilion and Keltech, Inc.

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