There was a time when Timothy Smith, the owner of an antique appraisal, restoration and woodworking shop in Onancock, Virginia, struggled in his day-to-day work because of a slow and unreliable internet connection. Not only was it a challenge for Smith to hear customers on the other end of the phone, but he also found himself waiting far too long for internet images to load. Smith's business–Timothy Smith & Sons–specializes in woodworking and antique restoration services for prestigious institutions, historical societies, government agencies, and private clients in the Mid-Atlantic region. Putting forth a good first impression online could mean everything for the growth and success of the family-owned business.
When Charter rolled out Spectrum's high-speed internet services this past fall to homes in Onancock and across Accomack and Northampton Counties, Smith and his family could not have been more thrilled. Charter's $20 million investment in the area is part of a three-phase commitment to bring Spectrum's services to nearly 18,000 homes across 1,200 miles of rural farmland and small towns on the Eastern Shore of Va., by March 2021. The first two phases of the construction are complete, and within a week of receiving the new service, Smith was enjoying download speeds of over 100 Mbps.
At Charter's launch celebration in November, Smith shared his family's story. "For the first time in 20 years, I have crystal clear voice communications ... No more having to apologize to clients and family for bad connections," he said. "We're now offering our custom woodworking products online. This relies on sending, receiving, and uploading high-resolution images and videos to the internet onto multiple online platforms. Folks are now purchasing our products and engaging our services from all over the country." More importantly, Smith added, high-speed internet has allowed him to connect with his grandchildren. "And man, that's worth its weight in gold," he added.
Charter's rollout to those 18,000 homes was a massive undertaking, as buildouts in rural areas are much more challenging than those in cities or suburban communities. Chris Snyder, Charter area vice president of field operations, who started out as a field technician in the business, knows this all too well. As Snyder explained at the launch event, the rollout involved more than a year of construction, 248 miles of fiber, 493 miles of aerial plant, 73 miles of underground plant, roughly 13,650 pole attachments, and over 85,000 hours of labor by the Charter team.
"It's been a pleasure to hear firsthand from families, residential customers, and small and medium businesses, like Timothy Smith & Sons," said Snyder. "High-speed broadband can provide life changing opportunities. Charter's investments in broadband technology and infrastructure like those we've made here in Virginia are investments in the economies and the futures of the communities that we serve, and where our employees live, work, play, and spend money." Charter has over 95,000 employees across the country who work every day to keep Americans connected.
Charter is also offering its Spectrum Internet Assist program to qualifying families on the Eastern Shore, which is the ISP's discounted program to help low-income families afford high-speed internet service. "Charter is committed to being a part of a comprehensive solution to close the digital divide," said Marva Johnson, Charter South Region's vice president of state government affairs. "And our commitment is evidenced through a number of ways, including our efforts to build out to homes [on the Eastern Shore], our commitment to extending digital literacy through digital education, and our efforts to make sure that our technology is accessible and affordable to more low-income families and to seniors."
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who grew up in Onancock, delivered remarks at the launch event and relayed how important it is for stakeholders to come together to invest in and to expand broadband connectivity services. He also acknowledged the plight of small business owners, like Tim Smith, who struggle with poor internet service or the lack thereof: "How can you help a business grow, or how can you attract a new business to an area like this, if they don't have access to broadband?" Northam also emphasized the increased necessity for telehealth services and distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam's administration has introduced $52 million that will go towards broadband expansion over the next two years. The state will also receive $30 million through the CARES Act. "So do the math. There's about $82 million available throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia to work with companies like Charter and Spectrum, who by the way, are putting up $20 million. So when you put all of our resources together and we work together, we can make things like this happen on the Eastern Shore," said Northam.
For Tim Smith, the benefits have been immeasurable. Smith commented, "We may be little America, but now we have big internet. Now we can dream big. We can plan big. And we can achieve big."