By Stefanie Jackson
Eastern Shore Communications, the Shore’s first wireless internet service provider (ISP) powered by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broad-band Authority’s fiber optic network, received a federal grant of nearly $1.8 million to build out its service area on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay.
Eastern Shore Communications will offer high-speed, broadband internet to Chincoteague, Wallops Is-land, Accomac, Exmore, and Cape Charles, as well as Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Norfolk.
U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced the federal grant award earlier this month.
“Broadband access is vital to the economic success of the Common-wealth and the nation,” they said. “These federal funds will help Virginia connect to the digital age while expanding access to healthcare, educational, and job opportunities.”
The money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development office’s Community Connect program for constructing and expanding broadband access in rural and underserved communities.
Eastern Shore Communications is not the only one of the Shore’s three ISPs to benefit from USDA programs supporting widespread access to broadband internet. Declaration Networks, better known as Neubeam, obtained an $8.7 million loan from USDA last year to expand its wireless broadband internet service in Accomack and Northampton counties and Garrett County, Md.
When Neubeam received the US-DA loan, USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett said, “nearly 40 percent of rural residents and businesses lack access to the same quality service available in urban centers” and “broadband is truly a lifeline to prosperity in rural communities.”
With its expansion, Eastern Shore Communications will offer speeds of at least 25 megabits downloading and 3 megabits uploading, in line with the latest definition of broad-band as introduced by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
According to the FCC, the definition of broadband changes with “advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers, and consumer demand.”
The FCC has changed the definition of high-speed internet three times in the last two decades.
Broadband was originally de-fined as internet speeds of 200 kilobits in 1996. In 2008, the broad-band standard was 768 kilobits to 1.5 megabits, which many internet users would recognize as a typical range of speed for DSL. In 2010, broadband was redefined as inter-net speeds of 4 megabits download-ing and 1 megabit uploading. In 2015, the current standard of 25 megabits downloading and 3 mega-bits uploading was established.
Eastern Shore Communications began in 2012 as the first high-speed internet service provider to use the fiber optic network built by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broad-band Authority that was established in part with funding from Accomack and Northampton counties.
The original fiber optic cable installation has been called the Shore’s broadband “backbone” because it runs through the middle of the peninsula, along Route 13, from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the Maryland border.
In 2013, Eastern Shore Communications celebrated the grand open-ing of its high-security and fully redundant network operation center, the Eastern Shore Data Center, used to monitor the ISP’s network from the back end for quality assurance.
The ISP also offers bundled services, including digital telephone, high-definition television, and home security services.
By Stefanie Jackson