It’s hard to beat the views in Grayson County, Virginia. The region is nestled in the thickly forested Blue Ridge Mountains and offers easy access to some of the best hiking trails in North America. But Grayson County’s geographic location is a double-edged sword: According to John Fant, Grayson County Supervisor at Large, it is one of the least connected counties in Virginia, with nearly six in 10 (57 percent) citizens lacking access to a broadband connection. “The lack of access is really preventing the county and its people from participating in the modern economy,” says Bill Shepley, a Grayson County administrator.
That’s all about to change. We are partnering with Appalachian Power, a utility that serves the southeastern region of the U.S., and Virginia-based internet service provider GigaBeam Networks to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and wireless internet service to approximately 6,000 unserved households in Grayson County. GigaBeam Networks plans to roll out its customer internet offerings in fall 2021, meaning that very soon, thousands of families in the region will be better able to connect with their communities, one another, and the rest of the world.
“Over the next few months, we are going to transform from being the least connected county in the state to one of the most connected rural counties in the U.S.,” says Shepley.
The opportunity for us to invest in the Commonwealth and provide critical infrastructure where it did not previously exist arose from our fiber build in the state. An important component in operating our data centers is the ability to connect the facilities to one another over fiber routes that are geographically diverse. To do this, we either purchase dark fiber from existing providers or construct new fiber routes.
In Virginia, we are building new long-haul fiber routes that will connect our Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina data centers. When completed, these new routes will open up the potential for small local carriers to make use of excess capacity to provide connectivity to underserved areas, such as Grayson County, where the state of Virginia is also piloting a smart grid project.
“You will see Grayson County become a multigenerational place, where it’s not just a retirement community,” says Delegate Israel O’Quinn. “You will have the ability to stay where you want to stay and do the job that you want to do because you have the connectivity to pull it all together.”
But delivering rural broadband is a complex challenge that requires innovative solutions. In this case, it was a collaboration between Facebook, Appalachian Power, and GigaBeam Networks, and each brought a unique component of the solution to connect the 6,000 households. Appalachian Power obtained regulatory approval from state authorities to build a middle-mile fiber network along its electric infrastructure grid. GigaBeam Networks was then able to build on Appalachian Power’s middle-mile network and extend FTTH, bringing broadband to thousands of consumers.
We brought our own long-haul network, allowing vastly increased access to backhaul while also bringing considerable engineering, construction, and technical resources. This enabled a service that is economically more viable, allowing regional providers such as GigaBeam Networks to scale their own engineering, customer service, dispatch, and installer services. Our involvement in this project helped define standards between Appalachian Power and GigaBeam Networks, allowing for the faster finalization of network design and enabling everyone to start building sooner.
“I’m a big believer that with this level of high speed and connectivity, people won’t be forced to move away to cities to find good-quality jobs,” says Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
This partnership is ultimately an investment in the people of Virginia — both today and into the future. Bringing fiber-based services to rural areas such as Grayson County helps bridge the economic gap present in those communities by providing access to resources for education, job creation, and telemedicine. FTTH networks are also key building blocks for future-proofing connectivity, because they can support technological changes.
“Broadband is like electricity 100 years ago — every community needs it,” says Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. “Virginia has pioneered innovative partnerships to achieve universal broadband, and Grayson County is a shining example.”
Adds O’Quinn: “It really is a permanent game changer for the county — and for everyone who chooses to call it home.”
Our Network Moments series highlights the impact of the projects we partner on to enable local businesses to bring reliable internet access to as many people as possible and help close the digital divide.