© 2006 Virginia Review, LLC

ALL ABOUT IT

Franklin County Wireless Broadband Partnership Case Study

By Sandie Terry, CGCIO

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine formed a Broadband Roundtable in June of 2007 to accelerate the expansion of broadband in the Commonwealth. This committee is tasked with providing a blueprint for local governments to address broadband in their locality. There are subcommittees focused on the technology, business models, measurement, applications, and community outreach. The Broadband Roundtable will deliver their findings at 2008 Tenth Annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) September 910 in Williamsburg.* There are many challenges and it can be overwhelming to a local government, especially in rural areas. Here's one approach to meeting broadband demand in a rural county.

THE CHALLENGE

Franklin County, Virginia is a 721 square mile rural locality in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The county boasts the lowest tax rate in the Roanoke Valley region, and is the fastest growing locality in the western part of the state. Citizens and businesses were calling on the county administration to provide broadband options. In addition, the county administration had several departments housed remotely that were not on the county's network.

THE OPTIONS

The county's cable franchise does not address data communications. The cable build-out is limited to just the most densely populated areas as the franchise stipulates a minimum of 15 homes per mile before the company is required to build.

The local telephone company provides DSL and T1 connectivity but were limited to mostly in town limits and was too expensive for most residents.

Satellite providers are available but the latency in those services would not support business demands.

Investigating potential solutions led us to wireless. It is relatively low cost and provides service across 1540 mile distances depending on location and line of sight to a transmitter. The wireless mesh solutions can be designed to be redundant by providing multiple paths in network routes.

We wanted to leverage local assets like county owned towers, water tanks and poles. We also wanted to limit our financial liability by not being a business investor or publicly owned provider.

THE SOLUTION

In June 2005 the county issued an RFP to find a private sector WISP to partner with to design, deploy and operate a wireless mesh network in the county. The county received only one response-from a firm in Salem, Virginia.

Over the course of the partnership, that firm's business in Franklin County has grown from presence on one tower serving 18 businesses to operating a wireless mesh network consisting of ten towers/poles/tanks (one more in progress) and serving 143 businesses.

BUSINESS BENEFITS

The partnership expanded the wireless Internet service provider (WISP) customer base in Franklin County from 98 customers in early 2005 to approximately 1,000 in early 2008. In addition, 15 fire and rescue stations were added to the county's wide area network (WAN) in addition to five other county offices. The county has 24 facilities connected via the wireless mesh, including the county's data center. Response times for county facilities and communication over this network are excellent as there is no need for traversing beyond this local network. The wireless mesh network supports data and voice and the firm is segmenting the county's voice traffic on their network to ensure quality of service (QoS).

CONCLUSION

If local governments partner with private providers, solid broadband services can become a reality for a fraction of the cost and in a much timelier manner. We have estimated the cost of this entire network build would have been approximately $500,000 if built from scratch. However, by leveraging local assets, a public safety grant and the partnership agreements, this network was built and deployed for just 24% of that estimated cost. VR

For more information:
Sandie Terry, CGCIO
Director of IT
Franklin County
40 East Court St.
Rocky Mount, VA 24151
(540) 483-6640
samdie.terry@franklincountyva.org

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