By WILLIAM PAINE
For The Patriot
Members of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors, along with several members of the county administration, made their way out to a newly constructed steel tower on the south side of the New River, so as to flip the switch that will provide broadband internet service to Hiwassee.
The 175-foot steel tower located next to the Hiwassee Fire Station is one of two such towers that the county constructed using C.A.R.E.S. Act funding. The other newly constructed tower is located next to the Snowville fire station.
The transmitters on these towers will make high speed internet access available within a five-mile radius of each tower. The goal of this project is to provide high speed internet access to parts of the county that had little or no high-speed internet access before.
Supervisors in attendance for this ceremonial flip of the switch included John Travis, Dirk Compton and Laura Walters.
Since these towers are both in Laura Walters’ Ingles District, she was given the honor of activating the new broadband transmitters.
“We’re really happy to be here this afternoon to light this tower up so that we can provide broadband to a lot of our citizens in this area that hadn’t had it before,” Walters said after flipping the switch.
“This doesn’t come from local money, but rather C.A.R.E.S Act funding which came through the state to the tune of $400,000. The project is going to serve about 900 residential and business customers in this area that haven’t had access to the internet before. So that’s going to be awesome.”
“And I’d like to thank all of our county staff that’s worked on this so hard. I’d like to thank All Points for partnering with us on this job and everybody that’s been involved,” Walters continued. “It’s been a long process and we’re really glad to have it completed and working.”
All Points Broadband worked in concert with the Pulaski County to provide this new service. According to Jason Politis of All Points Broadband, the transmitters of this high-speed internet service will be able to penetrate through trees in places closer to the towers, but will work primarily through line of sight transmissions.
“We’re able to offer 50 megabits per second off of these towers, which is something that was desperately needed for a lot of folks in the area,” stated Politis. “It’s a low latency connection, which means it sends and receives its information within milliseconds of the user requesting the information.”
Several locations in Hiwassee, Snowville and areas along the banks of the New River will now have access to high-speed internet, whereas before there was no service at all.
“Some places on these backroads, which take you 15 minutes to get to from any major roadway, are now able to get service, which is really nice,” said Pulaski County IT Director Clay Howlett. “A lot of people have vacation homes by the river and they’re like, well we would come visit more often if we had access to the internet.”
The county is currently partnering with All Points Broadband and Appalachian Power to secure a grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative to install fiber optic cable, which will provide high speed internet to every corner of the county. As mentioned, these towers provide high speed internet on a line-of-sight basis, but will not transmit through landmasses.
“This is a nice band-aid but it’s going to serve a lot of people until the Fiber Optic Grant comes through, which should happen by the end of the year,” said Supervisor Dirk Compton. “We used C.A.R.E.S money to pay for it because we need these emergency towers to contact our police and fire departments. This is our emergency services tower, but it just so happens we had a little extra room to put some Broadband on there, too. When you got extra room, it doesn’t hurt to put another plate at the table.”
Compton urged those living in the Hiwasse and Snowville to contact All Points Broadband if they do not yet have service.
“We’re in the business to provide people with internet service that don’t otherwise have a reliable connection,” said Politis. “Our mission statement is essentially to bring utility grade broadband to underserved markets, whether it’s state of the art wireless and hopefully, really soon, we’ll be doing fiber.”
After activating the tower at Hiwassee, county supervisors and administrators drove to the tower at the Snowville firehouse. Once again, Supervisor Walters was given the honor of flipping the switch.
“It really increases the quality of life for all the people who choose to live over here,” said Walters after igniting the Snowville service. “It’s such a beautiful spot in the county. Not having the internet has been extremely bad for folks working from home during the pandemic and for our kids doing school.”
“I’m very proud of the job the county staff has done,” said Supevisor Compton. “It’s always nice to work with people who know how to move things forward.”
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet and Assistant Administrator Anthony Akers were present for the occasion.
“The county has been trying to solve the riddle of broadband on this side of the river for 20 years and this board of supervisors solved that riddle,” Sweet exclaimed.