City creates own internet system due to service problems

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:06 PM EDT
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SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - After years of trying to get an internet service provider to invest in the city, South Charleston is investing in itself by installing a fiber optic network to improve internet speed and reliability.

The first installations are being completed this week and the goal is to eventually have fiber in front of every house in the city. This fiber network will then be leased out to multiple internet service providers, such as Frontier and Suddenlink, who can use it to supply a super high speed product.

“They can compete on cost, on service and on quality,” South Charleston Development Authority Executive Director Rick Atkinson said. “The winners in the marketplace are the ones who provide the best service at the best value.”

The project is costing around $6 million and will take two or three years to completely cover the entire town, Atkinson said. The city will earn back its investment through leasing the fiber to service providers. Leaders hope to use those funds to maintain the network and provide an additional revenue stream for the city.

“We’ve talked with Frontier,” Atkinson said. “They are very interested in being able to leverage what we are putting in the ground so they can offer higher quality service. I don’t think any business wants to offer low quality service. They want to offer high quality service, it’s the fact, can they make that investment?”

With the city making that initial investment, Atkinson said internet providers can focus on providing a reliable connection and up to gig-speed service. A small line expansion could allow a provider to connect into one of the new internet circuits and pickup hundreds of houses with little capital investment. The provider just has to commit to the lease with the city.

That will help people like Fran Gray who lives in the city’s Spring Hill area. Her house only has one internet service provider, Suddenlink, and even with the highest service plan, she constantly has problems accessing the internet.

“It’s really spotty,” Gray said. “Me and my husband are both in college right now, and it can be very difficult for us to be in school at the same time with online virtual learning. It seems the internet will not work for both of us at the same time.”

She’s hopeful her neighborhood will be part of the next expansion to access this high speed internet service. Cables are currently being installed at Southmoor Apartments and Kenna Homes. The network is already up and running at the South Charleston Community Center.

Atkinson said they are planning fiber installs based on where the city is set to pave roads. That way, they can dig under the old road surface to install the internet equipment then put a new surface over it.

The city hopes the promise of high-tech internet service will attract more residents and businesses to the area over nearby towns that do not have reliable internet service.

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