Residents and businesses in Montgomery, Giles, Craig, Botetourt, Roanoke, and Bedford counties, as well as the city of Roanoke have gotten a major boost in Internet bandwidth, thanks to completion of a federally funded fiber optic construction project led by Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC). 

In 2010, the Virginia Tech Foundation received a $5.54 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to extend Virginia’s open-access fiber optic backbone from Bedford to Blacksburg, passing through several underserved communities in the mountainous region. The university partnered with MBC to build and operate the fiber as an extension of MBC’s existing open access network. 

Jeff Crowder, executive director of strategic initiatives within Virginia Tech's Information Technology organization, wrote the grant proposal and oversaw the project for the university. 

“A key aspect of this project is that the fiber is open access,” said Crowder. “That means it is accessible and available to support any type of service delivered by any number of competing providers on equal footing rather than being monopolized by a single provider. It brings enormous capacity to our community with a diverse path. This is critical to support data intensive research within the university.”

The newly installed fiber is yielding multiple benefits along its path. Virginia Tech has lit several ultra-fast connections from the Blacksburg campus to national and international research networks. Cellular telephone providers have used the fiber to expand coverage in difficult to reach areas. 

Residential and business Internet service providers in the region have dramatically increased the capacity available to their customers, while realizing significant aggregate cost savings. Entrepreneurial initiatives, like TechPad in Blacksburg, have made use of the gigabit+ capacity to launch creative new ventures. 

MBC was formed as a non-profit in 2004, with a mission to build and operate an advanced, open access broadband infrastructure network in rural communities. With state and federal support, including an additional $26 million from BTOP for other projects, MBC’s network has grown to over 2,000 miles of fiber throughout southern Virginia.

Crowder expressed appreciation for the university’s strong partnership with MBC. 

“MBC really stepped up to get this project completed on time and under budget in the face of very complex requirements from the BTOP program. The new fiber connections are bringing fantastic benefits to the communities they reach and we are very excited to have their open access network extend to our area.”  

The Virginia Tech Foundation provided critical support for the project, serving as the grant recipient and providing about $1.4 million in matching funds. 

“The Virginia Tech Foundation was pleased to support the university’s role as a major contributor to the economic vitality of the region," said Kevin Sullivan, associate vice president for the foundation. This project helps not only the university and surrounding localities, but the Commonwealth in general, by bringing 21st century communications infrastructure to underserved communities." 

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.