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$2 million in grants boost broadband in Southwest Virginia

Wes Bunch • Jan 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

DUFFIELD — More homes and businesses will soon have high-speed Internet access in Southwest Virginia thanks to a pair of $1 million grants from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.

The grants, which were awarded to Lenowisco LLC and the Cumberland Plateau Co., will be used for continued development of high-speed fiber-optic broadband lines in the coalfield region of Virginia.

“These grants will enable broadband networks to continue to develop throughout the seven-county, one-city region that VCEDA is marketing as Virginia’s e-Region,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director.

The funds will make it possible for Lenowisco to enhance broadband projects in Lee, Wise and Scott counties, as well as Norton, mainly in the form of last-mile and fiber-to-the- home applications, said Frank Kibler, a senior planner with the nonprofit.

Sunset Digital will assist with the installations.

Reaching this point has been a succession of goals for Lenowisco that began by ensuring connectivity between schools in Wise and Lee counties, followed by area businesses and medical facilities, Kibler said.

“Fiber-to-the-home has been much more difficult to put together than connecting businesses or schools,” he said. “The coalfield authority has really shown some initiative by making some sizable investments in this area.”

Although rural areas have traditionally had economic disadvantages when compared to urban areas, Kibler said technology can help even the playing field.

“This broadband puts us where we are no longer at a disadvantage,” he said. “In many ways we might have a significant advantage over urban areas, especially when you take quality-of-life issues into account.”

Kibler said the anticipated emphasis will be connections that can tie to some economic impact, like telecommuting and other e-business practices, although no exact locations have been identified yet.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “It’s an ongoing thing. We’re just going to try and identify the best areas in our district to make these investments, and that hasn’t been determined yet.”

Lenowisco and the Cumberland Plateau Co. are nonprofit, non-stock corporations of the Lenowisco Planning District Commission and the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission. Both entities were founded to promote the installation of broadband Internet in Southwest Virginia.

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