Bringing gigabit fiber to Charlottesville, VA. It’s happening.

By Andrew Moore-Crispin

The Internet is a funny thing. You have an idea and a few days later you’re online, open for business and making money.

A terrible oversimplification, of course, but it is, at least, conceivable.

Building the network that gets people online doesn’t happen at quite the same speed. With some great people on the ground and in the the office there, though, it is certainly happening in Charlottesville, VA, and it’s beginning to pick up steam.

In Charlottesville (where this article was started but alas not finished) it’s apparent that a lot of work goes into bringing next generation Internet to a community. This and more I saw first-hand on a recent trip to one of the first Ting gigabit Internet towns.

While in Cville for the Tom Tom Founders Festival, I accompanied the installation crew on a couple of outings.

Between inspiring symposiums on digital entrepreneurship and meeting a lot of Ting customers face to face, I ran across town to get underfoot observe while the team got two people connected to the burgeoning fiber network. One, the co-pastor of the Charlottesville Mennonite Church and one an independent software developer, musician, and homeowner just up the road from where the Tom Tom Founders Festival block party would take place later that same day.

Both, here stated for the record, exceedingly lovely people, each with their own reasons for getting connected.

“I just want to be able to work in the office while someone else is using (the church’s Internet connection) too,” said Maren Hange, Co-Pastor at Charlottesville Mennonite Church as the Ting team was getting ready to run the church’s new fiber line.

The church’s needs are fairly modest: Email, online research, updating the church’s website, playing a video as part of a sermon, that kind of thing.

Across town, Jamie Orchard-Hays (a kindred spirit in double-barrelled surnames) was next on the job sheet.

As an independent software consultant working primarily in Ruby on Rails, he’s a little more technically minded. He had been watching the Ting Internet roll-out and keeping in touch with BRI while waiting for fiber to make its way down 1st Street, where his historic home sits.

I watched as Chris and the install team brought the fiber cable into the home’s basement. They then stripped it of its protective sheathing to reveal the single glass strand that would soon bring sweet, sweet access. It’s a fascinating process that we’ll detail in a later post.

With the sheathing removed and the fiberglass strength members clipped back, the glass strand is carefully cleaned with an alcohol solution before it’s effectively welded to another piece of glass fiber. This creates the termination point: The connector that then plugs into the access point.

The machine that does this splicing is a beautiful piece of engineering. It’s very precise work. The team, it seems, likes to bring the homeowner in while this last step of the process is completed. I can understand why: Watching two thin glass strands get fused together on the small monitor attached to the splicer really does feel like some next-generation stuff.

With the two glass strands now one, Jamie and I sat on his porch as the install team finished up inside.

He ran through the roster of conglomerate Internet service providers that have a presence in Charlottesville and his disappointment with the middling Internet speeds that have been offered to date.

“It’s hard to watch the rest of the world get fast access” he said, while in America, where the Internet started, people and businesses are offered broadband that hasn’t been that broad.

Ting brings the capital to accelerate growth of the fiber network in Charlottesville. After meeting a couple of hundred Cvillians face to face and hearing about the future of local entrepreneurship online, it feels even more like important work.

Bringing gigabit fiber Internet access to power the next generation of online ideas isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. It’s happening though, and we’re only just starting to hit our stride.

Stay tuned.

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