Ultra-high speed internet (broadband)
Given our overlapping interest in enhanced broadband, GNC and our counterpart at Virginia Beach, Virginia Beach Vision, established a joint Broadband Task Force that is focusing on how we can best leverage the budding Southside Fiber Ring which, at “build out”, will constitute a 103-mile-long fiber ring connecting government, business and education centers in the five Southside cities with each other as well as to one or more of the transatlantic cables that have either landed or are expected to land in Virginia Beach.
The goal of this dark fiber open access ring is not to compete with the private sector. The public sector (i.e., the 5 southside cities), will build the fiber highway and then allow private-sector companies to provide businesses with ultra-high-speed broadband at an affordable price. Achieving this broadband connectivity will facilitate economic development/job creation, particularly in the area of big data.
The second phase of the Southside Fiber Ring will complete the design to 100% (currently 30% designed) and HRPDC’s Regional Broadband Steering Committee has approved issuing an RFP for this work, which is estimated to cost $800,000. All 5 southside cities have agreed to share the cost. The third and last phase will be funding actual construction, with completion anticipated for June/July of 2021.
A key question is the governance: i.e., the oversight authority. The City Managers and their legal teams have been working on this key issue and have tentatively agreed to establish a Broadband Authority. The Authority will be responsible for setting the rates for access to the Regional Connectivity Ring. It’s expected that the proposal will be formally considered in July.
The public sector (i.e., the Broadband Authority), will provide services to governmental and educational facilities, but the plan is to lease the “middle-mile” fiber to private firms in order to serve business customers. If experience elsewhere is any indication, the regional fiber ring will lower the barrier to entry and stimulate more competition, resulting in more options.
Status: A proposal to form a Regional Broadband Authority to manage the Southside Fiber Ring has been vetted by the HRPDC Regional Broadband Committee and has been forwarded to the five Southside cities for their review and approval. Because both Norfolk and Virginia Beach are close to completing their portion of the regional fiber ring, it’s critical that decisions regarding the Authority’s business model, staffing and marketing happen as soon as possible so that the private sector in both cities can leverage this asset.