Monday, July 10, 2006

Southern Virginia fiber-optic network nears completion

From the Martinsville paper:

"Broadband ring nears completion

Bulletin Staff Writer

Construction of a more than 700-mile ring of fiber-optic cable in Southside is nearly complete, and those who are building it say it will bring more options and greater reliability to area telecommunications.

"We are as of today about 99 percent completed with the fiber project," said Tad Deriso, general manager of the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, on Friday.

The cooperative is a $27 million project funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and a grant from the economic development administration arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The project is intended to create an "open access" fiber-optic network that can be used by telecommunications companies which join the cooperative.

The fiber optic ring extends across the bottom of Virginia, from Patrick to Sussex counties, and as far north as Appomattox and Buckingham counties. The cooperative currently has 18 members, but more are interested in joining, Deriso said. He said the city of Martinsville's Mynet program is submitting an application to become a member. City officials could not be reached for comment.

Deriso said the project has about two more miles of fiber to link. That is in the Patrick County/Stuart area, and it should be finished within 30 days, he said.

"We're kind of going from construction into operations," he said.

When the fiber-optic network is complete, the cooperative will sell access to the network on a wholesale basis to other companies which will provide services to their customers. It will not provide services itself, but the Tobacco Commission is considering the possibility of trying to provide the "last mile," or the connection from the backbone network to people's homes.

"This project was never designed to be a last mile," Deriso said, but that might change as the commission examines options to provide those final connections.

"The commission realizes there's a real big need to get broadband (in some areas)," he said.

The Tobacco Commission's site describes the project as an economic revitalization effort, providing needed infrastructure. But Deriso said there also may be some more immediate benefits for consumers.

With the network in place, he said, there should be more redundancy and reliability. For instance, a recent cut in Sprint's fiber-optic cable, caused by contractors who were laying cable for the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, would not have caused such a lengthy phone outage if the Sprint was a member of the cooperative network and had access to the redundant fiber, Deriso said.

The open-access network also should provide a more competitive business atmosphere, he said, which could lower costs for consumers.

"Because you do have options and choices now, competition and the free market's going to take care of that," he said.

The network can provide more than just Internet and voice communication, Deriso said. It also can be used to transmit television signals from a distant "head end," a place where the signals are received from satellite and over the air to another community. This would mean the community receiving the signals would not have to build its own head end.

To give an idea of how much bandwidth the network can handle, Deriso said that if every man, woman and child in the city of Martinsville had a DSL connection and was running it at the same time, it would account for about 5 percent of the available bandwidth."

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