Benn’s Grant outside the ‘net

Published 1:40 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Most logical internet provider so far hasn’t provided

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

New homeowners moving into Benn’s Grant are discovering that they do not have high-speed internet service provided by Charter Communications.

With more than 80 townhouses and single-family homes sold thus far, East West developer Branch Lawson is “baffled” as to why Charter Communications has yet to provide service to a neighborhood that’s approved for 280 single-family homes, 40 townhouses and 240 apartments, as well as retail space.

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The developer began working with Charter in March 2015 but “it’s daggone frustrating” that the company has yet to install service in the new development located near the Benn’s Church intersection, said Lawson. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Isle of Wight County’s 10-year franchise agreement with Charter, signed in 2012, deals specifically with cable television and not internet service. Internet service is available from Charter as a “bundled” feature, but is not specifically addressed in the contract with Isle of Wight County.

According to Charter’s contract, cable television service must be provided to areas with at least 30 houses per mile.

However, because the contract deals with cable TV, the county does not have the ability to regulate for internet service, said Isle of Wight County Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

But because it’s not exclusive, other internet providers can come in and provide service, Robertson said.

Efforts to reach Charter were unsuccessful.

Those who live in areas where Charter is not available rely on satellite, personal “hotspots” or even dial-up. Those options are often limited by speed and capability.

The Board of Supervisors agreed Thursday that county staff should look into having internet providers offer service via the county’s new E911 radio tower system.

The new radio system will include five towers, but the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2018. As yet, the locations haven’t been finalized, said Isle of Wight County Sheriff Mark Marshall.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton, who used to work for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, said that agency views internet as a utility as necessary as water and sewer.

“The issue is getting that last mile,” he said.

Carrollton resident Jim Henderson was pleased that the Board was addressing the internet access in Isle of Wight County. Henderson and his wife Connie began working on the issue a couple of years ago and tried to get the prior Board of Supervisors to give it serious attention, but became frustrated by the lack of response.

Henderson thinks putting providers on towers is the best route to go for speed, capacity and widespread availability in a county that remains largely rural.

Surry County is in the midst of negotiating with an internet provider that would use a tower the county erected to serve the entire county.   

It may be possible to negotiate with Surry and its provider to offer internet in certain areas of the county, said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty.

There is also a MidAtlantic Broadband trunk line that comes from Smithfield and turns at the intersection at Brewer’s Neck and can be utilized with a tower provider, Henderson said.

A lack of technology can cripple a household, negatively impact a business and stifle economic development, McCarty said.

Lawson said setting up utilities for new developments is generally a routine and proactive process that begins before houses are offered for sale. In this case, the issue with Charter is unique.

“This is the worst case I’ve experienced yet,” he said.  



Regular mail took awhile as well 

In addition to start-up issues with high speed internet, Benn’s Grant residents went for some time without getting ‘snail mail’ delivered to their new homes. 

Postal workers were told not to deliver due to safety concerns, said U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Michele Martel.

Construction vehicles and activity posed a danger to postal workers, as well as postal vehicles, she said, adding that the decision is a judgment call by the postmaster.

The postal service does not put its workers in any situation where an accident may happen, Martel said.

Residents were offered the option of renting a post office box in Smithfield with 24-hour access or to pick up their mail at the counter, Martel said.