MBC & Virginia’s ambitious Broadband strategy

The state of Virginia is so far away from Silicon Valley, that we never almost ever think about it. It is also so far ahead in terms of trying to take control of its broadband destiny. Virginia’s Gov. Timothy M. Kaine wants all businesses in his state to have broadband by 2010.

Richmond Times-Dispatch has a wonderful overview of the state’s broadband efforts. From the article, you gather that since 1998, about $312.9 million has been invested in the state’s broadband infrastructure and a large chunk of the funding has come from FCC.

But more than that, it is the $67.6 million that the state got as a result of the 1998 national tobacco settlement, that has helped Virginia realize some of its broadband dreams. A big portion of that money went into a brand new Intra Muni-Network, the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC), which connects widespread communities with fiber, and is the cornerstone of this broadband makeover. (see maps below the fold)

long-haul-map.jpgUsing about $31.9 million over three years, MBC has put together a 700-mile fiber network. MBC fiber network is actually two networks – a long haul network that spans from Atlanta in the South to Ashburn in the North. The other network is one that connects smaller communities in the Southern and South Western Virginia.

MBC General Manager Tad Deriso in an earlier interview told me that the network that is built using Infinera DTNs can offer 100 gigabit connections, should anyone want it. The network which went operational in October 2006, is offering service at prices some 30%-60% below that of the competition. In some cases, their prices are more than 75% below those of existing carriers.

The abundance of bandwidth (thanks to MBC), space and power is making Virginia an attractive destination for new data centers, thereby bringing much needed investment and jobs to the state. Deriso told us that Google was building out a data center in Ashburn and MBC was providing connectivity. “We have private investors turning a warehouse into a new data center,” he said. Some estimate that MBC will lead to the creation of between 2000 and 3000 jobs over the next five years.

cvalarge.jpgThis MBC fiber is the cornerstone of Virginia’s broadband makeover. Several companies like Ashburn-based DigitalBridge Communications Corp. are going to use MBC fiber to power their wireless networks, which in turn will service businesses and residents. Other local companies, and phone cooperatives have plans to use Mid-Atlantic’s fiber to offer services.

MBC, to my mind is a good example of a lean-and-focused telecom operator aware of the competitive landscape and using technology to its advantage. I am sure there will be others who will follow their model, but for now, it is one of a kind. How far Virginia gets in is quest for universal broadband, remains to be seen. It is encouraging to see that the state making all the right moves.