Montgomery County broadband access to expand this week

WDBJ7's Jen Cardone reports
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 11:50 PM EDT
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) -Montgomery County is getting ready to ramp up its broadband this week as the need for internet access continues.

The county plans to take out 20 hotspots later this week to get easier access for people with little or no internet connection.

“In this day and age you’ve gotta have the higher speeds in order to especially look at video,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Fijalkowski.

With school classes and many people working from home, the need is now.

“Places that are underserved, it basically gives us a temporary solution to get them access until we get these networks built,” said President and CTO of GigaBeam Networks Michael Clemons.

The county decided to partner with GigaBeam last month to make internet access more possible for residents.

GigaBeam is helping with a temporary and permanent solution for the county. Starting later this week, they’ll be installing Wireless on Wheels, or WOW, Carts as a bandage solution.

“It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s definitely something to get you through this point,” Clemons said. “We’re at a situation now where we needed service immediately and this was the quickest way to get something deployed.”

During a presentation at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, we learned a study shows 5,933 homes are underserved, and 3,105 are unserved.

“I know people are very frustrated because they thought by now, they thought we’d have it, but unfortunately there’s a lot of planning that goes into this and it just takes time,” Fijalkowski said.

The board is working with GigaBeam to make that possible within the year. They are working on applying for grants to lower the cost, which is in the millions.

“We’re definitely here to get as many people connected to the internet as we possibly can,” Clemons said.

GigaBeam plans to eventually incorporate download speeds of a thousand megabits. Clemons said streaming video only takes about five to eight megabits. This internet will be lightning fast, according to the company.

“That doesn’t happen overnight," Clemons said. "Building high speed broadband networks is time-consuming and difficult, but we’ll definitely have a plan in place to make that happen.”

The county will be putting the WOW Carts out around the county starting this week. They’re solar-powered and were paid for with CARES Act funds.

Fifteen carts have Verizon 4G LTE and cost $480 each annually. Five carts require satellite service at $5,000 each for some of those more rural areas.

The only catch is students needing to turn in homework will have to drive out to these carts to be within 150 to 250 feet of them to connect. Laptops need to be charged because the hotspot doesn’t come with power outlets.

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