Firm wins $1.8M grant to boost broadband in Camden
By Jon Hawley
Monday, December 3, 2018
CAMDEN — A Virginia-based internet service provider has won a $1.8 million grant to bring faster internet to Camden County, company and Camden officials announced Monday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a Community Connect Grant to Eastern Shore Communications, of Cape Charles, Va., to build both a wired and wireless internet network throughout rural Camden, the county and Eastern Shore announced at county commissioners' organizational meeting on Monday.
Eastern Shore President Ronald van Geijn said the company hopes to have the new network up and running in about 18 months. Customers will sign up through Eastern Shore’s office in Elizabeth City, he added.
The new grant is a long-sought victory for Camden, county Economic Development Director Charlie Bauman explained Monday. Commissioners tasked county staff with improving internet access in Camden years ago, citing high-speed internet's importance to schools and businesses. That spurred officials to try and recruit internet service providers to the county, and to conduct surveys to identify the county's under-served areas, he said.
Those efforts led to the recruitment of Eastern Shore, an already established internet service provider in Elizabeth City, and working with the N.C. Broadband and Infrastructure Office and a federal inter-agency group, the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, Bauman said.
County Manager Ken Bowman also noted Camden won the grant thanks in part to the support of North Carolina U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and U.S. House Rep. Walter Jones, and even the support of Virginia's U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.
Donald Imhoff, Eastern Shore’s vice president of sales and operations and head of its Elizabeth City office, also thanked Camden residents for their numerous letters of support.
The grant will help offset the high costs of establishing a broadband network, which internet service providers sometimes consider unfeasible in sparsely populated, rural areas.
“Without this grant, it would be years and years before high-speed internet would be available in some of these parts” of Camden, van Geijn said.
Eastern Shore still needs to plan details and get federal approvals for the wired and wireless network, but its new service will cover residents in the eastern, northern and southern parts of Camden, van Geijn and Imhoff explained after Monday’s announcement. The aim is start building basic infrastructure in six months, and then finish the network 12 months after that, they added.
With a combination of wired and wireless service, Eastern Shore will provide download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, with faster speeds available as well, van Geijn said.