Virginia Tech Foundation receives $5.54 million grant from federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 11, 2010 – The Virginia Tech Foundation has received a grant award from the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP) to extend Virginia's open-access fiber optic backbone into the central Appalachian region of the state.

The Virginia Tech Foundation, which supports the instructional, research, and public service programs of Virginia Tech, served as the applicant and provided financing for a $1.385 million cash match to meet the 20 percent match eligibility requirement for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) program.

“I applaud the efforts of the Virginia Tech Foundation to provide public Internet service to unserved and underserved communities in Southwest Virginia,” said 9th District U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher who provided support for this proposal.

“This project will enhance opportunities for research, economic development, and public service which are core to the university mission,” said Raymond D. Smoot Jr., chief operating officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation. “The total project budget is $6.925 million, with $5.54 million provided from federal grant assistance.”

Over the last decade, Virginia has invested funds from the tobacco indemnification settlement and federal funding sources to build high performance fiber optic networks throughout the rural, tobacco-growing regions in the Southside and Southwest areas of the commonwealth.

This grant will enable extension of the network outside the tobacco region. The new path will add 110 miles of fiber to the system beginning at an existing node in Bedford and stretching through Bedford, Roanoke, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, and Montgomery counties to reach Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. Engineering is already underway and construction will begin on the new fiber path this summer.

This path will bring needed optical infrastructure to several under-served and unserved communities. It will also put the resources of Virginia Tech “on-net” for the entire Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) system adding significant value to the network through broadband enabled research, education, and public service.

Virginia Tech will use the fiber to enhance research, development, public safety, health care, and education programs throughout the region. The university also plans to use the fiber to improve high performance access to national and international high performance networks required for high-end science and engineering research.

Jeff Crowder, program director with Virginia Tech’s Information Technology division, coordinated the proposal and will serve as the program manager for the project.

“Virginia Tech has a long history of enhancing information technology availability for Virginia through large scale prototypes,” said Crowder. “The university was instrumental in conceiving and promoting the state’s investment in open-access fiber starting in the late 1990s. Programs like VERnet, the Blacksburg Electronic Village, NetworkVirginia, the Mid-Atlantic Terascale Partnership, and National LambdaRail have been impactful during the evolution of Internet technology at the local, state, and national levels. In addition, the eCorridors group is playing a key role for Virginia and nationally in state broadband mapping programs and contributed to the proposal.”

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative partnered with the Virginia Tech Foundation to develop the proposal and will help to build and operate the network which is expected to become part of MBC’s system, added Crowder.

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative is a non-profit entity created to build and operate the Tobacco Commission-funded fiber network in Southside Virginia. MBC has already constructed more than 800 miles of fiber blanketing the region and a long haul network connecting Southside to major metro areas in Washington and Atlanta. MBC operates as an open-access, wholesale provider enabling multiple fiber optic and telecom providers to deliver services to customers.

Citizens Cooperative, a local telecom service provider who is already a member of MBC, provided strong support for the proposed fiber path. Citizens is a local provider in rural New Castle located in Craig County, one of the under-served communities on the new fiber path.