Residents and businesses in Giles and Craig counties have gotten a big boost in Internet bandwidth thanks to a federally funded fiber optic construction project that’s lighting up ahead of schedule.

In 2010, the Virginia Tech Foundation received a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP) to extend Virginia’s open-access fiber optic backbone from Bedford to Blacksburg passing through several rural under-served communities in Montgomery, Giles, Craig, Botetourt, Roanoke, and Bedford counties. The university partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) to build and operate the fiber as an extension of MBC’s open-access network.

The fiber route is now under construction and nearing completion. The first section of the fiber from Blacksburg to Newport in Giles County has already been lit to deliver a high speed broadband circuit to the Pembroke Telephone Cooperative (PemTel). This fiber-optic backbone connection to the Internet dramatically increases the available capacity to subscriber members of the non-profit cooperative at an affordable cost. PemTel provides Internet, telephone, and cable TV service to rural communities in Giles and Craig counties and the surrounding area.

“Our motto is neighbors serving neighbors,” said Lisa Epperley, general manager at PemTel. “We are first and foremost about delivering high quality services to our members to enhance their quality of life and economic competitiveness. The construction of this new middle mile backbone fiber through our service area provides a huge boost in capacity to our region and will enable us to deliver next generation services to our members on par with what’s available in urban areas. Effectively, we are now connected to the core of the Internet as well as any community anywhere in terms of diverse, accessible fiber.”

Virginia Tech helped to create Virginia’s open-access fiber program but until now has not been directly connected to it. Once the new fiber path is complete, it will connect the university’s main campus in Blacksburg directly into the MBC fiber system which stretches across the state.

“This fiber project is important to Virginia Tech for several reasons,” said Jeff Crowder, executive director for strategic initiatives, Communications Network Services, at Virginia Tech and who serves as principal investigator for the grant. “First, direct optical access to national and international research network on-ramps in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, is an absolute requirement for our science and engineering research programs. Second, outreach for economic development is part of the mission of Virginia Tech and construction of open-access fiber to rural communities is critical. Third, connecting Virginia’s research universities to the state’s open access fiber network effectively puts the resources of those institutions ‘on-net’ creating access to education and applied research opportunities everywhere that network exists.”

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to build and operate an advanced, wholesale open-access middle mile network to promote economic and community development in rural Virginia. Utilizing state and federal funding, MBC will construct an additional 700 miles of fiber through Southern, Southwestern, and Eastern Virginia, expanding their existing 800-plus mile Southern Virginia network. MBC’s existing network has connectivity to key interconnection points in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Washington D.C., and Ashburn, Va. Membership in the cooperative is open to any telecom service provider, creating a competitive level playing field for access to MBC’s fiber. MBC currently has over 60 private sector provider members.

MBC president and CEO Tad Deriso said, “MBC welcomes PemTel as one of the newest members of our cooperative and we’re proud of this early success for the Virginia Tech BTOP project. In the past three years, MBC has experienced a double-digit growth rate, creating more than 2,200 jobs and helping to contribute $300 million of investment to the Southern Virginia region. By any measure, Virginia’s investment in open-access fiber through MBC is making a real difference to economic revitalization in the region they serve.”

MBC and Virginia Tech are working to complete construction of the fiber project through the mountainous terrain ahead of schedule in 2012. Ultimately, the middle mile fiber will be accessible to communities along its 108 mile path.

For more information on this project, contact Epperley at 540-626-7111, Crowder at 540-231-3900, or Deriso at 434-570-1302.

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