Solving the broadband problem
Dec 13, 2012 (The Reidsville Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It could take a while before all of Rockingham County has access to high speed internet. Over the last two months, the two companies who currently control the product in the area have gone in different directions.
CenturyLink officials said they see a value in expanding their coverage area. In November, the company announced they would expand to portions of the Eden and Gold Hill areas thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
Patricia Hatley, CenturyLink's Manager of Market Development for Western North Carolina and Tennessee, said that 98 homes and businesses in the eastern part of Stadium Drive and Edgewood Road should have high speed access if not now, within the next three months.
The grant funding helped the company built two new sites in Eden to provide the high speed coverage. Hatley said the company would continue expansion in the new year.
"We are just beginning work on expansion of DSL [service] to the Gold Hill area of Rockingham County," Hatley said. "Consumers in this area should have access to DSL in the first quarter of next year."
High speed internet service is split in the county between CenturyLink and competitor AT&T. As it currently stands, one company can't expand into territory controlled by the other one. The Eden and Reidsville areas, as well as Ruffin and other sections are CenturyLink territory. The western part of the county is served by AT&T.
Weeks after CenturyLink announced their expansion in North Carolina, AT&T unveiled an announcement of their own; highlighting the fact the company plans to invest $14 billion over the next three years. The problem however is that $14 billion figure is for coverage areas across the nation, with $8 billion for wireless and $6 billion for wired internet.
When it came to North Carolina and specifically Rockingham County, company officials didn't have much to say.
"It's too soon to provide specifics for North Carolina," said AT&T spokesman Josh Gelinas. "AT&T does not comment on specific plans for future expansion for competitive reasons."
While not commenting on expansion, Gelinas pointed to several projects the company completed in Rockingham County this year. That includes adding mobile Internet service to seven cell sites in the county, expanding capacity at 12 cell sites and upgrading three other cell towers to provide 4G wireless service.
The problem for Rockingham
The issue is that without high speed internet for the entire county, Rockingham suffers both from an economic standpoint and in the classroom.
"The areas that are currently not covered are more rural, so that blocks some home based businesses from operating," said Mark Wells, executive director of the Rockingham County Business and Technology Center. "It also heavily impacts farm based businesses. Some businesses want to take advantage of the internet to expand their customer base, to market their products to other counties and areas. They can't do that if they don't have access."
In addition to companies, the lack of internet impacts local students. With every high school student now given a Chromebook, websites, search engines and other internet based applications are a part of the day to day classroom work. In the areas without high speed internet, students have to find access points elsewhere in order to do their homework.
Hatley said that while she couldn't speak to anything beyond CenturyLink's current projects, she said the company plans to look at further expansion in Rockingham. Gelinas said he understood the issues, but could not comment on company plans.
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