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Southside cities to vote on authority, next steps for high-speed internet ring

The collaborative broadband project is designed to create an 'internet highway' to increase speeds and lower prices while drawing new industry to Hampton Roads.

NORFOLK, Va. — Five Hampton Roads cities are ready to create an Authority to build and connect a high-speed internet ring throughout Hampton Roads over the next three years.

Members of the broadband project's steering committee said it will circulate the fastest internet speeds on the East Coast, lowering internet prices and drawing more industries to the area.

The project starts in Virginia Beach, where Transatlantic cables connect at the Oceanfront. The fiber internet ring would then extend through Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Chesapeake.

"The region will be stronger and each of our municipalities will benefit from this," Norfolk councilwoman Andria McClellan said. "This truly has the opportunity to be transformative to Hampton Roads."

By November 1, the five city councils will hold public hearings and vote on creating an Authority to oversee the development of the project. Underground construction could be phased in during 2020 and the broadband ring could be active by 2022.

"That ring becomes our highway and we are sharing the road with other internet service providers that can ride on the highway," McClellan said. 

The cities won't control the internet. Their goal is to simply provide the infrastructure and leverage the internet as a public asset. The ring would create easier access points for ISPs and new industries looking to connect to high speeds.

McClellan said data centers, advanced manufacturing, telemedicine, research, healthcare, K-12 education and higher education are all areas that could expand because of the improved internet speeds and access.

"We're very proud of the port that we have here in Virginia but this becomes a digital port, and it's really the gateway to the world," she said.

City leaders say the collaborative project should keep a younger workforce in Hampton Roads, increase ISP competition and lower internet prices for residents. The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission unanimously voted to support the project and the goal is to connect the ring to the peninsula and other areas in the future.

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