Surry broadband may be near

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

SURRY — High-speed internet access could be available throughout much of Surry County by the end of summer or early fall, according to county officials.

Rhonda Russell, director of Surry County planning and community development, said that Surry County is currently in talks with SCS Broadband about the possibility of the company leasing out space on a tower that the county finished building last year.

The two entities are meeting on Aug. 3 to talk about rates. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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In April, Bacons Castle District Supervisor Judy Lyttle — then chair of the Board — sent a letter to 11 potential internet providers to see if they were interested in leasing the tower. Three responded to the letter, asking for more information: Eastern Shore Broadbard, SCS Broadband and All Points Broadband.

Conversations with SCS have since continued. The administration for Surry County met with SCS CEO Lon Whelchel in May and the company has since looked into the infrastructure and connectivity ability of Surry County.

In a voicemail to Russell in June, Whelchel said the county looked prime for wireless internet.

“We did some preliminary testing, had a drone fly over Surry, it looks great, everything looks like we can get bandwidth in there and service in and around Surry along with the other towers and some new building,” Whelchel said, according to a document prepared by Russell.

In the same voicemail, he said the best-case scenario would be having Wi-Fi available beginning in late August.

Russell said the Aug. 3 meeting could result in different leasing rates for the town. Surry based the rates on ones advertised by Nelson County when it went through with a similar project. But Russell said prices in the industry have changed since then and SCS actually told them the prices were too low.

“What needs some more work is that the rate structures are no longer competitive,” Russell said.

SCS is confident that it will be able to cover the majority of the county, she said. They are currently in talks with Prince George County too. And Surry County Administrator Tyrone Franklin said they could talk with Isle of Wight County. This could result in a regional wireless internet service that covers most of these counties, Franklin said.

Franklin said that when the project first began about a decade ago, the plan was never to cover the entire county; but as technology has improved, he said that is looking like a better possibility.

Russell told the Surry Board of Supervisors that SCS provides three rate structures: residential, business and custom. The residential rates range from $35 to $115, depending on the amount of bandwidth; the business rates go from $150 to $300; and the custom plan is for people who decide how much bandwidth they need and build a plan around that.

Surry has already provided internet connection in parts of the town of Surry with fiber optic cables. This was done first because this area has the highest number of potential internet users, according to a 2009 implementation report.

With the end of a years-long project potentially in sight, Russell thanked the Board for their help.

In 2007, “It was a hope and a prayer and a lot of faith that if we build it they will come,” she said. And with the tower built, the Surry County administration is confident that SCS will be coming.  {/mprestriction}