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Local internet connectivity could be accessible for all Huntingtonians in the near future.

The City of Huntington has taken steps to establish a fiber-optic backbone across the city. After an engineering plan is finished, work to install 183 miles of lines will begin. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024.

Earlier this year, the Huntington City Council approved $7 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand broadband in the city. The total estimated cost of the project is $14 million. The city is seeking other sources of funding, such as federal and state grants.

The plan is to reach every business and house in Huntington, said Cory Dennison, the city’s American Rescue Plan Act project manager.

“We hope this will increase your access to broadband high-speed internet, and we hope it’ll be an economic driver for recruiting businesses to the city,” he said.

By retaining a fiber-optic backbone, the city could pave the way for more internet service providers to come into the city and drive competition, Dennison said. The fiber lines could also be a recruiting tool for businesses, especially ones that require large data transfers, such as the telehealth industry.

The fiber-optic lines will be routed by existing power lines in some areas. The layout of the city and the high concentration of residents in close proximity will benefit the installation, Dennison said. Thrasher Engineering is developing a plan for the lines, which will be retained by the city.

Last year, the City Council approved funds to hire a broadband consultant to develop a strategy. Charles Dennie, who is the project consultant, said one advantage of installing fiber-optic lines is that they are “a great equalizer.”

“Fiber has enormous capacity. So it’s a really egalitarian … thing for the city. I mean, every citizen in Huntington will have access to world-class broadband,” Dennie said.

The installation of the fiber-optic lines could also allow Huntington to become a “smart city” in the future through additions like sensors to monitor flooding along waterways, digitally tracking vehicles in the city’s fleet and other services to help first responders in the Huntington Police and Fire Departments, Dennison said.

“What better entity than the city to own this fiber backbone? Because we have the greatest public good at the core emphasis of what we are trying to accomplish … It’s about driving competition, keeping prices low, but also delivering quality service to our residents,” said City Communications Director Bryan Chambers.

Efforts to recruit remote workers to the Mountain State and expand broadband access have been underway in the past couple of years. In April 2021, 2,000 applicants responded to a state remote workers program with numerous incentives shortly after it was announced, The Associated Press reported. Earlier this month, construction began on an Appalachian Power and GigaBeam broadband partnership project that connects 13,000 households, businesses, schools and churches in Logan and Mingo counties, according to The Logan Banner newspaper.

Tricia Ball, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said expanding broadband can increase the ability to do remote work. She said the city’s project could be a “game-changer,” especially because it will be publicly owned. By taking steps to become a smart city, services such as tracking traffic lights to align with incoming trains could make Huntington a destination.

“This would put Huntington on a map and make people want to move here so that they can experience it,” she said.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): McKenna Horsley

Quelle/Source: The Herald Dispatch, 14.08.2022

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