CIT Maps Highlight Gaps in Virginia Bandwidth

Norfolk map of fiber optic coverage
Norfolk fiber optic coverage. Blue = coverage, white = no coverage.

The Center for Innovative Technology has announced an upgrade to its Virginia Broadband Availability Map, which allows users to search by address or zip code where broadband services are available and to overlay the broadband data with other data such as population and vertical assets.

I have given the map a quick spin and have drawn one quick, superficial conclusion. Either there are some unforgivable gaps in broadband coverage — the cities of Norfolk and Roanoke look like fiber-free zones — or there are unforgivable gaps in the map’s database.

Map of Roanoke fiber optic coverage
City of Roanoke fiber optic coverage

The two maps in this post display “fiber optic wireline coverage,” as a proxy for high-capacity broadband. (The database also maps copper lines, cable, and four categories of wireless.) As I expected, the urban core of the Richmond and Northern Virginia metropolitan areas are blanketed in fiber-optic cable. But Norfolk and Roanoke appear as fiber deserts. Is it possible that two of the largest, densest cities in Virginia are captive to local cable monopolies for their high-broadband Internet?


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9 responses to “CIT Maps Highlight Gaps in Virginia Bandwidth”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    is there such a thing as non-predatory cable broadband in Virginia?

    I thought anywhere cable was “available” – it was de-facto private sector “got you by the short-hairs” kind…


  2. Virginia’s laws for franchising and regulating communication “hardwired” utilities such as co-ax cable and fiber-optic cable are bad enough, but the federal overlay on top of the old State franchise laws is byzantine. The only thing that “saves” the average consumer is the existence of competition among broadband technologies such as wireless data and the satellite, DSL and fixed-tower-relay providers. My experience in Mathews County is that DSL is unavailable outside the immediate CourtHouse vicinity and a series of cable providers has gone bust trying to hardwire the rest of the low-density population of that County, and nobody down there has ever seen a fiber optic cable; therefore it remains both spotty and expensive to obtain broadband by any means other than satellite or wireless, or by going to the public library (a popular option in Mathews). And satellite may be OK for watching TV, but for interactive internet access it’s terrible. That leaves wireless, or force the cable franchisee to expand its service area radically.

    It was electric utilities dragging their feet on electric service to rural areas that brought us the federal Rural Electrification Administration, a much-maligned but effective piece of the New Deal. I used to think rural broadband was headed for the same sort of government-mandated solution as some cities now have done with municipal wifi. Now, it looks increasingly like the wireless providers (and resellers/aggregators like Google Fi) will simply bypass all the infrastructure foot-dragging and provide adequate, competitive data services in rural regions (and those urban ‘fiber deserts’ like Norfolk, too) without anything hardwired or franchised.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Mathews may not be much different than the rural parts of Spotsylvania where the cable companies will not go and options are DSL, satellite or cellular.

    I don’t think govt is going to do with broadband what we did with rural electrification although I would LOVE to be wrong!

    and the irony is – that rural electrification – as well as cable – rely on public roads and the public roads right-of-way for their businesses.

    In the rural parts of Spotsylvania – the county has embarked on paying the cable providers to extend cable along the major roads to schools , fire stations and community centers where those nearby can then go to – to get access. We have people parking in parking lots with their laptops even when these places are closed but their WiFi is still up!

    Let me note also that most all of the sheriffs cars are equipped with laptops and cellular connectivity and the cellular companies apparently CAN find enough customer density to make it worth their while to put up cell towers even in the rural areas.

    Judging from my circle of friends these days -many of them have semi-abandoned their computers/laptops and pretty much rely on their phones for all things internet… anyhow…

    everything is now whatever you can find with a quick search….

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    One possible solution is for interested people to form a broadband coop. Many rural areas of the United States are served by electric and wireline telephone coops. If they complied with applicable regulations, they would be eligible for Universal Service Fund help.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    the other path would be for people to pay for the expansion with increased taxes rather than expecting others to pay or subsidies.

    this is really a quintessential issue where people don’t want to pay increased taxes and others believe the less govt the better… but if people really want/need a service – do you do it through govt or are there other ways?

    I suppose people could organize themselves and sign a petition and send it to Comcast asking for an estimate to be “wired” and then each person would owe their share to complete the transaction to get the cable laid.

    I have no idea if this has ever been done… but in other posts here in BR there is discussion of special tax districts to pay for something people in that district want. Why not for cable?

    I also have no idea how much each person’s actual cost would be to have Comcast/Verizon/other to extend cable to them.

    I do think having a group of people step forward and commit is more appealing to the cable companies – rather than them estimating what percentage of people would sign up if they expanded prospectively.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I don’t understand not investing in broadband in areas with large black populations. Unless the market has changed, African Americans have always been a strong demographic for video services.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      @TMT – density guy, not race…

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, I was reacting to the lack of fiber coverage in Norfolk & Roanoke, both of which have significant African-American populations. In rural Virginia, the issue is, of course, density or, more appropriately, the lack thereof.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          so you think it’s race that is the issue?

          or perhaps income demographics rather than race?

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