Ceremonial groundbreaking held for county Internet towers

Dan River Supervisor Joe Davis, Westover Supervisor Ron Scearce, Congressman Tom Garrett, Field Representative Matt Becker, Pittsylvania County School Superintendent Dr. Mark Jones, Chatham Town Manager Richard Cocke, County Administrator David Smitherman, Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Warren, Economic Development Director Matt Rowe, AcelaNet CEO Lon Whelchel, MBC Board of Directors Vice Chairman Ted Hodges, Delegate Les Adams, and landowner Bill Rogers dig in and ceremoniously break ground at the base of White Oak Mountain to bring Internet to rural Pittsylvania County.

On May 19, at the base of White Oak Mountain off U.S. Highway 29, county officials and dignitaries held a ceremonial groundbreaking event to kick off bringing Internet to rural Pittsylvania County.

Matt Rowe, Pittsylvania County Economic Development director, said the location of the groundbreaking was a symbolic gesture to the landowner Bill Rogers, who at no cost to the county, granted the easement.

He said Rogers gladly cooperated for the betterment his fellow citizens and to benefit school children.

White Oak Mountain is one of the tallest structures in the county and wireless Internet service will first come to those in line-of-sight to the towers set there, said Rowe.

“This is an important milestone,” he said.

Delegate Les Adams said in these modern times, the world is at the fingertips of those who have Internet.

According to Rowe, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) agreed to lay fiber to link existing towers at its cost.

MBC Board of Directors Vice Chairman Ted Hodges said the Pittsylvania County Internet project is exactly one of those situations that fit squarely in the MBC mission of bringing Internet to underserved areas of the Tobacco Region.

Rowe said the past two to three months have been spent formalizing plans with MBC and landowner easement, signifying the county’s readiness to lay that fiber.

“With MBC, we’re greatly under budget,” said Rowe.

Rowe, who has been working on the project since he became director, said they’re pretty much right on schedule, even with the rainy spring.

From the day of groundbreaking, it will take about a month to calibrate, test, and optimize equipment. Rigging cabinets have been already installed. Leaves being on trees are good, he said, because they won’t have to guess about possible interference.

Starting mid July, Rowe anticipates one tower a month will be brought online until all seven existing county towers will be utilized.

He said his team has already been quietly working with rural businesses that are expanding, looking to expand, or otherwise have poor service, to build awareness of the project.

“Businesses have been saying, ‘You get Internet to us, we’ll hire 30 more people,’” said Rowe.

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that this project will create 100 jobs, including home business start-ups,” he said.

According to Rowe, spending money throughout the county has a multiplier effect. A new tower may cost $20,000, but it could bring in $12,000 in new taxes and a two-year return. “That’s a win-win, like providing water and sewer at industrial parks. It’s called ‘development return,’ and creative thinking like that will bring Pittsylvania County to the next level,” he said.

Rowe said total hookup should take approximately 12 to 18 months. “It won’t be one size fits all. This is not easy; it is hard,” he said.

According to Rowe, any hiccups or delays will not be due to the county. It will be environmental, dealing with utility hookups and awkward angles. He hasn’t been bogged down by the county’s legislative committee, not needing to present and request or wait for layovers per tower and structure.

Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Warren said he’s pleased with the progress thus far and said the Internet availability will attract 21st century companies to the area, answer resident demand, and facilitate online classes and home businesses.

“This service will improve lives of many individuals, but our Internet woes will not be cured over night,” he said.

AcelaNet (SCS) CEO Lon Whelchel said going to areas way underserved is a part of his company’s expertise.

Warren applauded SCS for taking on the challenge of providing for Virginia’s largest county.

Price plans have not been disclosed, said Rowe.

Hodges said he values the opportunity to partner with SCS and Pittsylvania County and be involved with the project.

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