Charter: Broadband buildout ahead of schedule

Published 5:26 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Isle of Wight County’s share of a regional broadband buildout is more than halfway complete.

Charter Communications, the area’s dominant internet service provider, broke ground in mid-2022 on a $37 million expansion of high-speed internet availability to the rural areas of Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the city of Suffolk that is scheduled to be complete by mid-2025.

“We’re actually further ahead of schedule than what we thought based on the fact that initially we ran into some permitting issues,” Charter’s director of governmental services, Eric Collins, told Isle of Wight County supervisors during a March 7 project update.

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As of that date, Charter had completed roughly 180 miles of underground fiber optic cabling and activated 1,994 passings just in Isle of Wight, leaving another 1,200 in the county to go. A passing refers to any physical home or business address able to be connected to Charter’s network.

Unlike neighboring Surry County, which in 2022 achieved universal fiber-to-the-home availability by partnering with Dominion Energy and Prince George Electric Cooperative subsidiary Ruralband, the Charter project is focused on extending fiber only to areas not presently served by cable modem.

Several years ago, Charter was awarded 1,839 Isle of Wight passings through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, or RDOF, a federal program that allows internet service providers to compete for the right to provide service to specific census blocks. Charter was awarded an additional 1,378 passings through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, or VATI, which in 2022 also contributed $22.7 million in state funding toward the project. Charter and the three participating localities are footing the remaining $14.5 million cost.

Collins said by beginning the RDOF and VATI buildouts concurrently, Charter was able to accelerate the timeline for the RDOF build to 36 months, down from the seven-year buildout the Federal Communications Commission had initially authorized.

“We actually started building – we got permission from Virginia and DHCD, Department of Housing and Community Development – to begin construction before the contract was ever signed because we wanted to get ahead of schedule, so by doing that and leveraging those two we ended up with those 3,217 total passings between RDOF and the VATI build,” Collins said.

Ruralband, however, won the rights to provide broadband service to roughly 600 Isle of Wight homes in the vicinity of Rushmere near the county’s border with Surry.

Collins acknowledged “pockets” without service within areas shaded as complete on an interactive online HRPDC map of the buildout, which area residents can view at Charter crews will, prior to the slated July 2025 completion timeframe, go back and connect these areas, Collins said.

Some areas, including the Walters and Carrsville unincorporated communities in southern Isle of Wight, are shown on the map as without service though they’re surrounded by areas listed as complete. Collins said these too will soon be added to the service grid.