The company that won a contract to deliver broadband service to Roanoke City Public Schools in 2017 is about to piggyback from that network to expand coverage for businesses.

Shentel Communications said the company laid about 40 miles of fiber to reach each of the city’s schools. That network happens to run past about 2,500 businesses, all of which are now potential customers.

The Virginia-based company isn’t committing to lay a certain amount of new fiber, but instead says it’s making its first major push to find fiber customers, expand its support team and grow its network in Roanoke.

When new customers sign up, the company will build a branch off the existing network to reach the sites, whether that’s a one-mile expansion or 10.

Shentel Senior Vice President Willy Pirtle says Roanokers can expect to see billboards and advertisements for the service starting now.

“If we get another customer that big,” he said, referring to the school district contract, “then we could justify another 40-mile build.”

Pirtle said Shentel has been in the Roanoke market for years, but this new effort marks a major expansion of its fiber business. He said prices will vary, based on the bandwidth and services requested. For now, the company is only targeting business customers, not residential.

The news marks the latest investment by an internet service provider in the Roanoke market.

For years, city leaders and local business owners complained about what they called a broadband donut hole. Roanoke was too big to qualify for federal grants that help rural communities expand broadband access, but too small to incentivize private investments by telecommunication companies.

Fearing the region would be left behind, a group of localities around the region came together in 2013 to form the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. Local governments would create their own business, build their own network and deliver service to their own customers.

The idea was for that venture to become self-sustaining from service revenues, while at the same time attracting more competition and private sector investment.

Since then, the RVBA has laid 80 miles of fiber across the region. New providers, like ABS Technology in downtown and MtnNet on Bent Mountain, have come to town aboard that fiber.

Separately, Cox Communications last summer announced upgrades to its own network in Roanoke. The company now offers its superfast service, called GIGABLAST, to all residential customers in the Roanoke Valley.

RVBA CEO Frank Smith said in a Friday statement that the organization was formed to jumpstart this kind of investment.

“Now, based on the collaborative vision of those forward thinking business and community leaders, we are starting to see clear infrastructure and economic development gains,” he said. “When businesses and citizens have more options, everyone wins.”

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