South Charleston is in the midst of a project aimed at creating a citywide fiber network.
The initiative will provide internet access for homes and businesses while also helping the city streamline its own network. It also will create an infrastructure city officials said will appeal to businesses considering a move to South Charleston or existing businesses considering expansion.
But to be clear: city employees won’t come to your home to hook up televisions and other media devices.
“The city doesn’t want to be in the business of being an internet provider — that’s not our core,” said Rick Atkinson, city manager for South Charleston. “‘Be there between 8 and 6 and we’ll show up sometime if you’re lucky.’ That’s not us.”
Still the city wants to ensure its citizens have reliable internet access.
Atkinson said the city has spent about $100,000 so far on the project, with much of that cost coming from installation rather than materials. The plan is to recoup that money by leasing the fiber to providers who specialize in digital services, emulating a model being used by other cities across the country.
“Quality internet service is mandatory for cities to grow,” Atkinson said. “It’s like 50 years ago people wouldn’t buy a house if it has a septic system because they wanted a sewer system. They didn’t want the problems that come with a septic system. They want streets that are better maintained and sidewalks. Well, in this century [internet is] that for business and households. And it’s accelerated a lot because of the pandemic with people working from home.”
Atkinson said a discussion regarding the project began in the fall of 2019. It was prompted by reports of students receiving iPads for school that were offset by the reality they weren’t useful without internet service. From that came the idea to create a citywide network.
“Broadband is one of the most important things when a new business comes to your community,” said South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens. “And what COVID has done to us is it’s brought things to the forefront that we haven’t even considered. Video conferencing, online and virtual activity like people using doctors online. There are a lot of things coming to fruition now that we didn’t even think about when we started the project. It makes it even more important for us to have high-speed, dependable internet.”
Work began a few months after those initial talks and large chunks have already been completed. So far, the 100-unit Parkland Terrace and the 400-unit Kenna Homes Cooperative Corportation apartments have been outfitted with access points. Work is underway at Southmoor Hills apartments, a 250-unit complex about 4,000 feet from Little Creek Golf Course.
From there, access can expand, stretching into a neighborhood of about 400 homes as well as to South Charleston’s Public Works garage. That pattern will continue, Atkinson said, until the city is blanketed with a finished network.
“We’ll just build it out in piecemeal locations,” Atkinson said “and look at what our needs are,”
Charleston-based Secure Net is handling the network design work.