Internet, cellular lagging in IW

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A few months back in this space we heaped praise on Surry County officials for showing Virginia the way on world-class broadband internet service. It’s time for Isle of Wight to get on the stick.

Fiber-to-the-home (or business) broadband connectivity is the “gold standard” in internet service and is now available throughout Surry County. Meanwhile, internet service is embarrassingly poor in neighboring Isle of Wight, a prosperous, growing place whose communications infrastructure is lagging its residential and commercial development.

Routinely at our office in downtown Smithfield, internet connectivity goes out entirely. It’s slow even when it’s working. We’d switch providers if we had a choice, but there are no other broadband alternatives. We do business just a few blocks from the global headquarters of Smithfield Foods, which surely needs first-rate broadband service to maintain its status as the world’s largest pork producers.

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And don’t get us started about cellular phone service. Carrying on a phone conversation is a crapshoot in downtown Smithfield regardless of cellular service provider, suggesting a major deficiency in tower coverage.

Isle of Wight County officials might be quick to put responsibility on the private sector, which owns telecommunications infrastructure. But county government underestimates its ability to drive progress in broadband and cellular service. The first step is to declare it a priority and begin rattling cages. Based on the length of their meetings, county supervisors seem to have lots to talk about, but we rarely hear a peep about the county’s telecommunications deficiencies, much less a plan to do something about it.

Contrast Isle of Wight’s inaction with Surry County, which worked with Dominion Energy and broadband providers in the race to be the first locality in Virginia to offer fiber-to-the-home to every home and business.

Fiber-to-the-home gives the county an important tool in public education and a major advantage in economic development, as companies these days are insistent on first-rate internet connectivity when they are looking for places to build and invest. State officials wisely are investing a big chunk of COVID-19 federal relief funds in broadband expansion, with a goal of universal access in Virginia by 2024.

Isle of Wight shouldn’t wait three years to join the list. It’s time to step to the front of the line.