From The Virginian-Pilot By RYAN MURPHY
NORFOLK — Norfolk, start your routers.
Internet service provider Metronet plans to lay down a new a fiber internet network throughout the city, providing residents and businesses with the highest commercially available internet speeds — and a direct competitor for Cox in a city that has long complained about having one option.
The announcement was made by Mayor Kenny Alexander during Thursday’s State of the City address.
Metronet has installed similar fiber optic systems in cities all over the Midwest and South, boasting so-called “gigabit” speeds, the fastest internet available. Construction in Norfolk is expected to start by the end of this year, Alexander said.
Alexander also said the company would not be looking to the city for any funding or incentives.
Buildout of the new network likely will take a few years. Economic Development Director Jared Chalk said by the time all is said and done, the network will reach every corner of Norfolk.
“There’s no part of the city that will go untouched,” Chalk said.
Norfolk residents have long had just one option for the internet: Cox Cable. The complaints about a lack of internet competition have been so regular and consistent over the past several years, the city put up an FAQ about it and the Pilot has written its own explainer on the issue.
It’s even elicited complaints from city council members. Tommy Smigiel, who represents the Ocean View area, complained at a 2016 council meeting about what he called the “out of control” price of Cox’s service and said, “because there is no competition, I think they know they can get away with this.”
And repeated outages in recent months have frustrated residents even more, according to a WAVY report from March 10.
Chalk said the recent shift to working from home as a result of coronavirus has even more clamoring for improved internet.
“We in Norfolk, citizens, and businesses, for years and accelerated with the pandemic, have wanted options. This creates competition,” Chalk said.
Verizon — Cox’s main cable and internet competitor elsewhere in Hampton Roads — has been cagey for years about reasons for not expanding its Fios service into Norfolk. The company said in 2016 it didn’t have plans to expand to localities it didn’t already serve but never said why.
Recently, at least one wireless provider had started offering wireless high-speed internet in Norfolk.
But now, true competition for high-speed, hard-wired internet will come to the city.
Metronet, based in Evansville, Indiana, is the eighth largest fiber internet company in the nation. It began by building out networks in several Midwest cities, before expanding south. According to its website, it’s building networks in 60 localities.
As it has in cities across the Midwest, it will lay many miles of fiber-optic cables across the city. The effort will take years — in Tallahassee, Florida, the company’s $75 million network there has been under construction since March 2020.
Chalk, the economic development director, also emphasized the business impact, saying access to top-tier internet service could help Norfolk bring in and keep businesses with higher-paying jobs attached.
Ryan Murphy, 757-739-8582, email@example.com