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Connecting to the digital grid

Posted on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 11:34 am

MetroCast crews string cable along Route 360 in Northumberland County.

If you’ve driven through Northumberland County within the past five months, you may have been stopped by MetroCast crews. Northumberland is the last county in the Northern Neck to get connected to the digital grid which includes high-speed Internet,  television and telephone.

One particular upgrade that MetroCast plans to offer Northumberland customers is high-speed Internet, a commodity that several Northern Neck communities still don’t have.

Bill Newborg, General Manager of MetroCast’s Virginia systems,  said Northumberland users will have the same packaging, pricing and Internet speeds as customers in other localities.

“Everybody will have the same rate…so it’s virtually identical, and that also is true for the business services side,” said Newborg. “In other words, one service fits all.”

But even with MetroCast’s new services in Northumberland, there will still be citizens in the county who won’t be receiving them, Newborg added.

“When you get to the building of it, now you have to start eliminating the areas that are just not cost-effective,” he said, noting that he needed 25 homes per mile to have a reasonable rate of return, as he was not always going to get 25 customers per mile or one customer per home.

“I’ve got to cover the cost of building the project,” said Newborg, adding he expected that 40 out of 100 homes he passed would use his service. “If I have an area over here, and there are five homes a mile, there’s no way I can operate that and stay in business.”

Newborg, however, said any Northumberland customers who had cable on the old Comcast system will have all of the products available on the rebuilt version.

This year, MetroCast is focusing on between 4,500 and 5,000 homes in Northumberland County.

Newborg said as his company rolls into next year to extend services to include another 700 or 800 county homes in their service area.

Newborg expects installation to start ramping up around October, as 90 percent of MetroCast’s nodes, or service connecting points, will have been activated.

Northumberland County Administrator Kenny Eades said county offices currently use a line through the Virginia Information Technologies Agency system.

The problem with the system, Eades noted, was that it “gets pretty expensive.”

With MetroCast’s high-speed Internet soon to become available, Eades anticipated huge cost savings for the county, as well as a faster service.

“I’ll be glad when MetroCast gets up and running,” said Eades. “It’s going to help us out a lot.”

There are others in Northumberland, however, who are weighing their options in considering the switch to MetroCast.

Recently, residents have faced issues with their local providers. Download speeds have been anywhere from .28 megabits per second to 3.14 mbps. MetroCast users have been getting upwards of 30 mbps. The company promises 35 mbps.

Some organizations in the region have not completely committed to MetroCast, using other Internet providers as a backup or vice versa.

But many users in the region have complimented MetroCast’s rebuilt package.

Westmoreland’s Assistant County Administrator Karen Lewis said while the county government uses Verizon, MetroCast’s services are used throughout most of the county.

“I’ve heard a lot of good results from the citizens,” said Lewis. “They seem to be really happy with the package…and the Internet service that they’re providing.”

County Administrator Norm Risavi, who has had MetroCast for over a year at home, shared his strong satisfaction with the upgrade and applauded their Internet service.

“I’ve not heard much in the line of complaints since they’ve taken it over from [Comcast],” said Risavi. “[MetroCast’s] service has been fine, and they’ve been very responsive when there have been any issues.”

David Broad, President of Tappahannock-based Digital Wisdom Inc. Systems Development, called MetroCast’s service “excellent” and said he could not fault it in any way after over two years of use.

“It’s about the highest bandwidth that we can obtain out of any service around here,” said Broad, adding that its up time “is pretty darn good.”

Broad said he was getting downloads of 30 megabits per second, thereby supporting MetroCast’s assertion.

“I’ve upgraded every time that they’ve offered a service to upgrade,” said Broad. “It’s state-of-the-art for the Northern Neck.”

Bess Haile, Director of Essex County Public Library, said her organization has used MetroCast’s Internet service for over a year.

“It’s more stable,” Haile said, adding while the library has experienced downtime with the system twice in 12 months, there have been considerably less outages since the switch from their previous provider.

“I’ve been very happy with the quality of service for Internet, and we get heavy usage,” Haile said in reference to the 12-15 computers that are connected to the Internet at any given time in the library.

Rappahannock General Hospital’s Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Joanna Marchetti echoed Haile’s sentiments.

“[MetroCast has] provided excellent service for us and they’ve been a great partner to the hospital,” Marchetti said.

Marshall Sebra, Planning and Zoning Director for the Town of Kilmarnock, said staff has been using MetroCast’s high-speed Internet since they relocated to the new town hall on 1 North Main St. in July, which already had the service.

“I don’t have lot of time to base it on, but I can tell you that the frequency of losing the service is not as great here as it was there [at the old town hall],” said Sebra.

MetroCast is owned by Harron Communications and maintains local offices in King George, Colonial Beach, Bowling Green, Burgess, Warsaw, Saluda, Mathews and Kilmarnock.

For more information about the new MetroCast services that will be available to Northumberland County, contact 804-758-5870, 301-373-3201 ext. 3021 or email kmacleod@metrocast.com.