Panel discussion held in Gloucester on high-speed internet

by Bill Nachman - Posted on Aug 11, 2010 - 03:02 PM

The Gloucester County Planning Commission held a panel discussion about high-speed internet service during a meeting Thursday night in the colonial courthouse. Although the five panelists agreed there might be merit in such service becoming readily available here, the commission took no vote on the matter.

The county’s planning department has been charged with investigating how Gloucester residents can access affordable high-speed internet through broadband service, planning director Anne Ducey-Ortiz said. Also, she said her staff was instructed by the Gloucester Board of Supervisors earlier this year to create a set of standards and to suggest changes to county ordinances to permit the necessary infrastructure to accommodate such uses.

A public hearing will be held on the high-speed internet issue later, planning officials said, perhaps early next year.

Ducey-Ortiz said there are various methods of accessing high-speed internet, but the present county ordinance is "not tailored to allow for broadband (technology)."

David Mower, one of the panelists and a partner of Northern Neck Wireless, is familiar with broadband service. His company recently installed a data pole at Hallieford, Mower said, and plans to install other data poles to bring broadband service to many areas of Mathews.

Mower, whose expertise includes data poles and wireless systems, said that the poles help serve the so-called "last-mile" customers, connecting them to the infrastructure backbone that’s been developed.

John Shaw, Mathews County planning director, sat on the panel and discussed Mathews’s approach to broadband technology. He said the county’s Industrial Development Authority pushed for a broadband ordinance in Mathews.

A key to high-speed internet, Shaw said, is that residents "want something affordable," which some current options are not.

Clara Cieri Meier, regional planner for the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, said the "last-mile" factor must be addressed in making high-speed internet available to the communities of this area. Meier said that one option is to expand the existing infrastructure backbone to make a service loop of the region.

A regional broadband authority has been set up to push for improved technology for interested communities, Meier said.

Panelist George Bains, director of the Gloucester Department of Information Technology, described how the county has linked all of its government buildings electronically and has worked with wireless broadband for more than eight years. Even buildings like the library branch at Gloucester Point and the maintenance shop at Ordinary are linked to the main buildings in the village, Bains said.

Ron Peaks, Gloucester’s director of codes compliance, described what the county ordinance currently allows with telecommunication poles and towers. In some ways, Peaks said, Gloucester’s ordinance has a "one-size-fits-all approach" to telecommunications devices.

The board has asked the commission to bring back recommendations about this technology and possible ordinance changes early next year, Ducey-Ortiz said.

Later in the meeting, several residents spoke in favor of affordable broadband technology during public comment period. Speaking for the technology were David Breeden of Ware district, Red Mehaffey of Petsworth district, David Hamilton of Abingdon, and Don Mitchell of York. Also, York district supervisor Carter Borden said that broadband is "an important issue" for Gloucester and he thanked the commission and Bains and his DIT staff for their hard work in exploring broadband options.

On other matters, Ducey-Ortiz presented a housing report, indicating that total housing unit gain was 105 for the period July 2009 through June 2010. That total included 104 single-family units and 30 manufactured housing units (29 replacements).

Total housing values for this June based on building cost estimate reported on building permits: single-family, $1,678,500; manufactured housing, $7,000.

Sixty-five percent of the manufactured housing during that 12-month period was replaced or relocated singlewide manufactured homes, a report said, with 32 percent of the units replaced or relocated doublewide manufactured homes.