Editorial: So about this Internet service that’s coming to Charles City…
Nearly three years ago, Charles City County received a $600,000 grant as part of a broadband initiative to bring high-speed Internet to the locality.
Three years later, citizens are still asking, “Where is it?”
Technically, the Internet service is available, but only to those in Roxbury Industrial Park. The service is currently running through fiber-optics underground, which is receiving high praise from business owners. But right now, it’s the citizens of Charles City who are most concerned about it.
The timeline for SCS Broadband providing service to county citizens through the air has been murky at best. Matt Rowe, who served as former Director of Planning for Charles City, said he expected it up in less than a year. But when Rowe left, so did any clarity for residents on when (and now if) the service would be provided.
The timeline has frustrated county citizens and rightfully so:
-December 2014: Received a $600,000 grant along with an additional $55,000 to bring high-speed Internet to Charles City.
-July 2015: Rowe comments at board meeting that broadband completion date would be October 2015.
-October 2015: Rowe announces that homes should begin to receive Internet service in December 2015.
-Jan. 2016: Rowe leaves for job in Pittsylvania County.
-Feb. 2016: Rachael Chieppa becomes new Director of Planning and inherits broadband project.
-Sept. 2016: SCS Broadband representative Lon Welcher tells county’s board of supervisors that high-speed access will begin to trickle in by November 2016.
-Dec. 2016: Frustration from citizens lead to a town hall meeting with SCS Broadband representatives. At that meeting, Welcher tells citizens that topography has factored into the delay for the towers activation. He also says that it takes each tower 60 days to activate. Also, only 75 percent of the county is expected to have access to the Internet service, down from 90 percent stated by Rowe in previous meetings.
-Aug. 2017: Internet is available to businesses in Roxbury Park. First airborne signals are sent out to towers. It was also announced that an additional tower would have to be added because Charles City’s landfill is currently blocking the path of one of the signals.
And here we are today with little progress made in regards to residents having high-speed Internet. I am often bombarded with questions through my email and my personal social media pages when the Internet will arrive and who will access it. That question has also become a recurring one at Charles City Board of Supervisors meetings. While I can’t answer those questions, I can make the following statements (remember, these are my opinions):
1. The purpose for the Internet service broadband initiative was to assist businesses first and foremost, not citizens. However, because of the numerous delays on both the county and provider sides, businesses have left Roxbury Park. Jobs were supposed to be provided when Internet was available. As of now, many people have lost them.
2. County residents were placed in a difficult spot from the get-go. After the broadband initiative, optimism began to spread like wildfire and that the citizens would have the service they needed. Instead, they are still in a debate whether to keep DSL provided by Verizon (with speeds that aren’t up to snuff because of Charles City’s proximity) or pay hundreds of dollars per month for the installation of satellite Internet (that loses its signal during any type of storm.)
3. Local educators are now setback because of the issue. A conversation with the parent of one Charles City student revealed that every night, her house is full of kids who use her Internet to do homework because they don’t have it at their residence. Technology is affecting education and the lack of accessibility to the Internet is now playing a tremendous role in the success of students.
Simply put, access to the Internet has transformed from a want to a necessity. Similar to food, shelter, and water, Internet has reached a point that in order to remain relevant and competitive in today’s environment, it must be present. That service must be consistent, stable, and provide the same opportunities to residents as it does to businesses.
The journey for affordable and reliable Internet has been one that has created headaches for all parties. While the county’s board of supervisors and SCS Broadband has both butted heads at some point during conversations about the service, it still remains that the citizens are desperate for accessibility.
It’s been three years since this topic arose in conversation. Let’s put it to an end and get these citizens what they’ve been patiently waiting for.