Localities make progress in internet expansion efforts as Comcast ups speed for area customers

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Mar. 18, 2018 | 3:50 p.m.

Comcast: No widespread expansion plans for PG, Dinwiddie right now following internet speed increase

DINWIDDIE – One of the largest telecommunications companies in the world announced last week its intent to provide speed boosts to customers across Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard but plans to widely service to more rural parts of the Commonwealth remain unlikely at the current juncture, company officials said.

In a statement last week, Comcast confirmed they had rolled out speed increases to some of its more popular Xfinity Internet service tiers for new and existing customers in the Northeast Division, which includes 14 northeastern states from Maine through Virginia and the District of Columbia, at no additional costs to its millions of customers.

While speed increases will vary based on a customers’ current speed subscription, Comcast officials said the vast majority will see an increase of 50 Mbps.

“With new devices coming online for consumers every day, we’re committed to offering the fastest speeds and the best features and overall experience so our customers can take advantage of the technology available,” said Kevin Casey, President of Comcast’s Northeast Division. “We’ve increased speeds 17 times in the last 17 years, and continue to invest to deliver a fast, innovative and reliable experience in and out of the home.”

New and existing customers can expect to see enhanced speeds this month. Most customers will automatically be upgraded to the new speeds, and will simply need to restart their modems. Comcast will notify customers who may need to upgrade their modems to receive the new speeds. Those who lease modems from Comcast and require an upgrade can do so for no additional charge by requesting a self-install kit or visiting a Xfinity Store or service center, such as the service center in Prince George County just off Puddledock Road. Those owning modems requiring an upgrade can purchase a new one or lease an Xfinity modem, which includes Xfinity xFi, which is a digital dashboard that lets customers personalize, manage and control their home Wi-Fi experience.

While increased speeds to allow for customers to do more with their Internet-connected devices, customers in more rural portions of Virginia outside of Comcast’s service area are more concerned about getting access to the companies offerings, particularly high-speed internet.

Comcast does have a footprint in both Dinwiddie and Prince George County in the counties’ more urbanized areas but, the further outside those more developed areas, service access becomes more scarce, leaving many to rely on either satellite-based Internet services or other devices provided by mobile phone carriers.

When asked about plans for expansion in either county, Comcast representative Eliza Findlay said there aren’t any firm plans currently for such expansion.

“We don’t have plans at this time to announce,” she remarked, adding, “We do want to serve as many customers as possible and we do evaluate things based on geography and if it financially feasible for us.”

In both Prince George and Dinwiddie counties, residents have been pressing Comcast to consider expanding their services to the areas where they live, some being outside of the more developed areas of the counties where Comcast services are mainly offered. In December of 2017, Dinwiddie County moved to renew its franchise agreement with Comcast, which is only tied to video services and, by Federal Communications Commission regulations, cannot have internet services tied to it and, during the meeting where the approval was made, residents spoke more to the need for internet rather than television services in the county’s rural regions.

“We need internet,” one resident simply said, while Supervisor William Chavis spoke to the franchise agreement’s automatic expansion provision, which would allow for service expansion to an area if the minimum density of 25 homes is met, saying, “We all want it but you’re not willing to give it unless you have 25 to 30 homes. We know you have areas where there are 30 houses, but you don’t want to put forth the effort to connect.”

“We’re a rural county and you’re not going to spend money to help us,” he continued. I get that you’re in business, but what are you going to do to help students in our county.”

While Comcast representatives called the 25-home automatic expansion provision “a baseline” and the company “could go beyond the agreement,” officials in Dinwiddie are working to bring internet service to their customers by turning to the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and a partnership with neighboring Amelia County.

According to The Tobacco Commission, they are “setting aside $10 million from the Research & Development Committee budget to assist in the construction of these ‘last mile’ connections.”

While the program started as a grant, according to Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill, it has changed to a loan that would come from The Tobacco Commission. Those localities applying for funding from the pool of $10 million must be expanding service into unserved areas of the commission’s footprint at “speeds of at least 10Mbps, “with preference given to localities applying in conjunction with private-sector partners.”

The county has partnered with Arrington, Virginia-based Acelanet, LLC as part of the project that would see over 90 percent of Dinwiddie County brought online and utilizing $1 million in Tobacco Commission funding if the agency approves the county’s request.

“The community would have to partner with an internet service provider and that ISP would have to look at the community and make a three-to-five year plan to get broadband to the community, that last-mile connection,” Massengill explained.

As of press time, officials with Dinwiddie County were still awaiting word on if their project will receive funding from The Tobacco Commission.

Across the border in Prince George County, their own partnership with Prince George Electric Cooperative to bring high-speed internet to rural parts of the county continues to pay dividends as more customers are being brought online monthly, according to cooperative representatives.

In June of 2017, $1 million in debt proceeds from the county’s spring borrowing earmarked for broadband expansion was provided to the county’s Industrial Development Authority, who then created a grant that was awarded to PGEC Enterprises with the objective of bringing 500 new customers online in four years as part of the cooperative’s fiber-to-the-home program, which started as a successful pilot program in 2016 where over 50 customers were connected to high-speed internet services.

Residents and businesses that are “within 1,000 feet of a roadway” will be able to receive a fiber drop to their home or business as PGEC Enterprises works to expand internet services through the county, with service currently costing $82 per month, which includes a leased router.

The agreement also stipulates upload and downloads speeds for the service, requiring PGEC Enterprises to provide a minimum of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

Finally, the contract calls for PGEC Enterprises to construct and make fiber optic cable connections available to all public structures owned and operated by the county that is within 1,000 feet of a VDOT road, including schools, libraries, fire stations, and wireless communication towers, among others.

PGEC Enterprises will also provide internet service to the Central Wellness Center, Prince George Emergency Crew building, the Burrowsville Fire Department and the town’s community center for the residential rate of $82 per month with a leased router during the term of the agreement. When that period ends, the rate would convert to the commercial rate.

While the cooperative will begin providing updates to the Prince George Board of Supervisors starting this year as part of their agreement with the county, PGEC representative Renee Chapline said the project is progressing well as they have brought over 125 new customers online and have another 116 pending applications that they are in the process of working on.

Despite a recent bout of weather, ranging from rain to snow, to strong winds, Chapline said progress continues to be steady and they’re right where they want to be in terms of their agreement with the county.

“We feel confident we will complete this project well ahead of schedule,” Chapline said, referring to the July 1, 2021, deadline to have 500 new customers online.

In past conversations, PGEC Enterprises has verbally stated its commitment to wanting to expand service beyond the initial 500 customers being brought online in the agreement.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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