RICHLANDS – A joint-venture fiber-optic broadband line from Bristol to Lebanon and Richlands should come online within the next two months, officials said Thursday.
"The fiber is up," said Jim Kelley, vice president of Bristol Virginia Utilities’ OptiNet division. "It is spliced. We’re doing a little more testing on it."
Kelley and other officials from the utility met with local planners and community leaders at Southwest Virginia Community College to update them on the two-year project to bring broadband service to Russell and Tazewell counties.
It will be the utility’s second expansion outside Bristol since 2003, when it began offering cable television and Internet service.
The project will open in two stages, Kelley said. Service for businesses should begin on Feb. 15 in the Lebanon area and March 30 in Richlands, he said.
Residential customers could start getting service by summer.
Money for the project got its start from $2.5 million in federal and state grants, including tobacco buyout money.
OptiNet has begun taking orders, and telephone service could be available by June 1, Kelley said.
Plans for a second phase would extend the trunk line from Richlands toward Bluefield and into Grundy in Buchanan County. Another extension would run from Hansonville to St. Paul and eventually to Clintwood in Dickenson County.
Planners estimated that phase would cost about $6 million.
A third phase would connect the lines in Clintwood and Grundy.
Funding for the rest of the fiber-optic loop still depends on the state’s willingness to match federal grants, planners said.
MIKE STILL is editor of the Richlands News-Press. He may be reached at mstill@richlands-news-press or (276) 963-1081.