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Virginia Tech
City offers Internet service
Taken from The Roanoke Times External Site
Written By Paul Dellinger
July 12, 2006

RADFORD -- Radford will spend $1 million on the first of four planned deployments of Internet service for city residents.

It will be the first municipality in the New River Valley to offer broadband Internet service to its residents.

The Blacksburg Electronic Village provided Internet service in Blacksburg in the 1990s, but that project included Virginia Tech and a telephone company as well as the town and has since been turned over to private providers.

Pulaski has a committee working with the Pulaski County school system and others to set up a broadband network, but links so far have been limited to schools and government agencies.

Radford's plan is to use its city electrical system and wireless technology to offer Internet service. It launched a pilot project last spring bringing Internet service to residents of Hunters Ridge Apartments, which City Manager Tony Cox said helped city employees work the bugs out of the system and get up to speed on implementing it over a wider area.

The first area to be served will be the city's most heavily populated, around Radford University. Council had earlier appropriated $400,000 toward that first phase and voted Monday night to add $600,000 out of reserves to complete the first phase.

Mayor Tom Starnes cast the only dissenting vote. Later, he said he voted against the project because of the cost and a question of how soon the system could turn a profit.

Council approved the $600,000 appropriation ordinance on the first of two readings, with the second scheduled for July 24. Councilman Dick Harshberger was unable to attend Monday's meeting but, even if he should vote with Starnes, the second reading would pass if the other three council members vote the same way.

As was the case in Bristol a decade ago, Radford officials wanted to make broadband Internet service available throughout the city because private providers are not doing so.

Bristol was one of the first communities in the country to offer Internet service, and first had to win a lawsuit to overturn a state law banning local governments from competing with private providers. It now offers the service through its utilities board.

In Radford, "This will grow into a utility service that will generate revenue," Cox said. He said the city could offer it at lower prices and the universal access could boost economic development by bringing new business.

"To say that it's not available to large parts of the city is untrue," said Keith Marshall, a Verizon employee who said he was speaking only for himself. Between the telephone company where he works and access through cable television, he said, more than half the city is already connected.

"You're going to use their tax revenue to provide a service they already have or don't want," he said.

John McCandlish of the College Park section spoke in favor of the initiative, saying Verizon does not provide the service where he lives.

"This is something we've investigated for 18 months," said Councilman Bruce Brown. He said residents had approached him about not being able to get Verizon service. Most recently, he said, former councilwoman Gale Collins told him Verizon was unable to serve her.

Marshall said Verizon could serve Custis Street, where she lives. Brown said that is not what she told him. Brown later apologized for debating Marshall, saying the public hearing on the appropriation was for citizens and not council members to talk.

Collins, contacted Tuesday, said Marshall had called her after leaving the council meeting and told her she could get it. "That's not what Verizon told me when I called," she said. Collins said she got a cable connection through Charter Communications.

A second phase would later expand the service farther from the university area. Later it would be extended to Radford's West End and Fairlawn.

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