Lawmakers and county leaders react to Shentel's internet service end

Lawmakers and county leaders react to Shentel’s internet service end

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – Shentel announced that its Internet Beam service will end on November 30 and that many rural areas in Augusta and Rockingham counties will be left with limited options for a high-speed Internet connection.

More than 1,100 homes in Augusta, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties use Internet Beam and will lose coverage. On Wednesday, WHSV met with some Valley lawmakers and county leaders to get their feedback and discuss possible solutions.

“A lot of people won’t have any bridges. They won’t be able to find replacement internet service and that’s deeply troubling,” said State Senator Mark Obenshain, a Republican who represents Rockingham County.

Sen. Obenshain said that according to figures he got from Shentel, more than 500 homes in Augusta and Rockingham counties use beam internet. He hopes Shenel will reconsider ending the service.

“Shentel has such a rich history as the premier rural phone service provider that it was something that really fit their niche,” Obenshain said. “Many people have come to rely on it and have signed up with the understanding and confidence that it will be there until they are able to get wired internet in their homes.”

Rockingham County Republican Delegate Tony Wilt said he was saddened to hear that Shentel was shutting down Beam, but praised them for their efforts to extend broadband to rural parts of the city. valley.

“This is an issue that has been brewing for a number of years and where I take my hat off to Shentel for their intervention, look what they have done. They have invested tens of millions of dollars to launch Beam and present it to citizens, they did it on their own initiative and did not wait for government money,” Wilt said.

Wilt hopes other carriers will step up and expand coverage. In the meantime, he said rural broadband access remains a significant issue.

“COVID has brought this to light. We closed the schools and expected children to learn via the internet when a good portion of them did not have the internet and we have seen the results of that. That’s not the only reason we needed to move forward, but it really highlighted the need for our most rural citizens,” Wilt said.

Some people in Augusta County are concerned about the impact of the Beam shutdown with limited options for rural residents of the county.

“The digital divide in Augusta and Rockingham counties is taking a big step back. Unfortunately, for most of those affected, we have below average access or some people will not have internet access,” said Amy Thornton, Augusta County Broadband Committee Member.

Republican Augusta County Sen. Emmett Hanger said he has been in contact with Shentel since the announcement. He said that while nothing has been finalized, he is confident the company will reach an agreement to transfer its internet service to another provider.

“I feel encouraged that there can be a bridge there and whoever gives it up can take over before those people, about 1,500 people lose connectivity,” Hanger said.

He said that from his understanding, Shentel’s decision to end Beam is a bit more complicated than it seems.

“They’ve been kind of pushed to make a decision based on some of the contracts that are pushed as far as who’s going to do what in terms of territory and licensing and that kind of putting them in a box as much as they can,” he said.

For those living in the rural areas of the valley, help will come down the road. Rockingham and Augusta counties will enjoy near-universal broadband through a regional partnership led by All Points Broadband that launched last year.

“They are in the early stages. They will use the Dominion Power pipeline and Shenandoah Valley Electric, their fiber pipeline. It’s going to take a while to fully develop and they’ll be bonding around this time a year from now,” Rockingham County Trustee Stephen King said.

The project received a $95 million interim grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) in December. The project will include Augusta, Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham and Warren counties.

It will include 3,100 miles of fiber infrastructure and connect 41,000 currently unserved locations. 7,580 of these locations are in Rockingham County.

“They have three years to complete the project with state funding. We don’t know what they will do when and what they will do first. Their goal is once they’ve gotten their contractors working in an area to keep them active and busy, so they don’t leave the area and go somewhere else to do other work,” said King.

King said Shentel personally contacted him to inform him of Beam’s end.

“It affects, depending on their number, 500 to 550 individuals (in Rockingham County). We know many people who have this service, county employees use this service and one of our board members uses this service. So it’s definitely something we’re aware of and it’s going to create a void and a divide for the people who depend on it,” he said.

The regional broadband initiative will make a major difference for both counties, but it will take at least a year before connections begin and three before they are all finished.

“The challenge for me and for all the other Beam customers is what do we do in the meantime? It’s no longer acceptable to tell people in rural areas ‘it’s a compromise you’re making to have a home at the countryside. I liken it to the need for the Rural Electrification Act of 1936,” Amy Thornton said.

Senator Mark Obenshain said while the Regional Broadband Project is a big win, but in the short term, losing Beam still stings.

“It happens. We have funding, both state and federal, and it will be there, but it just can’t be magically put into place overnight,” Obenshain said. to get internet in these underserved areas of rural Rockingham, Augusta, Page, and Shenandoah counties. It’ll be here soon, but it’s a big setback for a lot of families.

Shentel sent WHSV the following statement regarding its decision to terminate Beam.

The decision to end the Beam service was not easy. We understand the impact that removing Internet service will have on individuals and families. We have invested tens of millions of dollars to ensure that those who need internet access, especially at the height of the pandemic, would have it.

However, Shentel is currently transferring its spectrum in these areas to a national wireless service provider who will be able to provide additional wireless broadband coverage. Over the coming weeks, we will provide additional details as our spectrum transition progresses.

We saw ourselves as part of the solution to bridging the digital divide and worked in a grant selection process with the Commonwealth to receive funds from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to continue and even expand this service.

Unfortunately, due to several factors, the subsidy landscape has changed dramatically and funds have been allocated to fiber providers in our Beam area. We recognize that this is a difficult transition, but we understand that companies that have received grants will install fiber networks in these areas.

In addition to a new national wireless service provider adding wireless broadband service to these areas, we also hope that subsidized fiber companies will be able to provide broadband service so that communities have several alternatives. for their internet service.

Please visit the Commonwealth Connection map at: for the latest information on fiber service subsidies.

#Lawmakers #county #leaders #react #Shentels #internet #service

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *