IW project may boost web access

Published 1:38 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The potential to add high-speed internet providers to Isle of Wight County’s new public safety radio towers appears to be an added bonus to the equipment upgrade.

The new system will include four towers, located at Nike Park, the Isle of Wight County fairgrounds, Woody Acres Way and Holly Run Road.

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The towers will range in height from 300 to 400 feet.

“The towers can easily be overlaid with broadband,” said D. Terry Hall, director of the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Regional 911 Emergency Communications Center.  Hall, who is assisting Isle of Wight, gave an update on the $6.9 million project Thursday during an Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors work session.

Each tower will have the capacity to include two more users, such as wireless or broadband, Hall said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In addition, new equipment can also be added to the county’s existing towers, as well as its water towers, according to Hall and Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton.

The towers are lattice to add strength and to decrease the need for more towers, said Hall. 

The lattice construction will keep Isle of Wight from becoming a “tower farm,” he said.

High speed internet has been an ongoing concern in Isle of Wight outside the towns of Smithfield and Windsor and the county’s development service districts. Isle of Wight County has a franchise agreement with Charter Communications, but it only directly addresses cable television, and the county has no ability to regulate internet coverage through the agreement. Charter provides internet service as a “bundled” feature along with cable television and telephone, but is not required to offer cable TV in areas with less than 30 houses per mile — leaving many residents reliant on alternative methods, such as a personal “hotspot,” satellite or even dial-up.

However, because the agreement does not address internet, it opens the door to other providers.

Allowing providers to attach equipment to the towers could also provide a new revenue stream for the county, Hall said.

However, the pubic safety equipment on the towers is only for that purpose, he added.

The new public safety radio system will replace an outdated and disjointed system that has inadequate coverage that can leave first responders without an ability to communicate. The system is for all first responders in Isle of Wight County — law enforcement, as well as fire and rescue.

The new system is expected to provide 95 percent coverage 95 percent of the time, according to Hall, adding that tower placement takes into account areas of future development in Isle of Wight County.

A map provided to the supervisors indicated a few small areas that could receive less than the 95/95 percent standard, but those areas will still have coverage, Hall said. Isle of Wight will also have console patches with Surry County — which abuts a few spots on the map indicating less than 95/95 percent coverage, Hall said.

Hall also suggested that Isle of Wight create an ordinance that specifies that new public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, include amplifiers for added coverage and clarity.

Currently, the project is working its way through the permitting process with a long list of state and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the state Historic Preservation Organization.

There are a few concerns — namely an endangered salamander, the northern long-eared bat and the small whorled pogonia.

The small whorled pogonia is a member of the orchid family and lives in 18 eastern states. It is threatened by urban expansion and degraded habitats. It has been on the threatened list since 1994, according to the USFWS.

The bats are troubled by white-nose syndrome and removing of trees during its roosting season.

Hall said those concerns are “speedbumps” and not major problems.

The project is expected to “go live” next year and the optimal time is before the leaves fall off the trees — as dense foliage would give a thorough test of the system, Hall said, adding that the Federal Communications Commission deadline is December 2018.

Another part of the project is updating and renovating the existing 911 center, which includes replacing a tower at the courthouse. It will be 80 feet tall and located four to six feet from the building.

 When completed, it will connect Isle of Wight with with Suffolk, York, James City County and Gloucester County.  {/mprestriction}