Danville's economy was built on what are now declining, semiskilled, low-wage textile and tobacco industries. This legacy has produced a workforce with low educational attainment and advanced work skills, very modest household incomes, and high unemployment levels. The City is aggressively undertaking economic development and industrial recruitment efforts to transform its traditional manufacturing and agriculture economy into a forward-focused economic base capable of creating jobs and increasing wages. A key part of this effort will be to close the "digital divide" that denies Southside Virginia business and residents access to advanced broadband telecommunications services available elsewhere to improve educational and economic opportunities.
The City's Connecting Danville to the Future project uses high performance fiber and wireless technologies to provide a broadband connection to every home and business in Danville' electric service area over the next five to seven years. Broadband connections to households and businesses will provide access to educational resources, open economic development opportunities, improve utility resiliency and reliability, and involve the community in energy management and conservation.
Danville's students and displaced workers need broadband access to learning resources and training classes, but currently, the high cost of broadband service is an obstacle to many families. By offering free high performance access to local schools and colleges, every student and displaced worker in Danville would be able to study and learn new skills on a level playing field - completely erasing the digital divide.
The Basic Concept
The City will not sell broadband services itself, but will operate the broadband network as a "public access digital roadway." As with conventional transportation roadways, the City will build and maintain Danville's digital roads, but private businesses will use the system to deliver broadband services. This is consistent with the Commonwealth's view that municipalities should not compete with the private sector. This approach creates unlimited opportunities for Internet service providers, who can offer a wide variety of services on the network for very low cost.
The current method of charging Internet users for a broadband roadway of a certain capacity is broken. Internet access and service providers make the most money when customers use no Internet access at all, and make the least amount of money if a customer uses the Internet for high bandwidth, but increasingly common services like telephony, video, and music downloads. ISPs are adapting by blocking certain kinds of services or slowing them down to degrade service. This punishes customers for using the Internet and keeps the cost of basic broadband access artificially high.
Instead of charging for Internet access, Danville will offer broadband customers a service-based system that only charges residents and businesses for the services they actually use. As an example, the system would offer several VoIP (Voice over IP) telephony services. Customers will pay the provider of the service a monthly fee, and a small portion would be returned to the City by the service provider for use of nDanville to deliver the service. This system is already in successful use in Europe. Danville will be the first city in the United States to adopt this innovative new approach.
The service-based approach will be extremely attractive to businesses, who can move to Danville knowing that workers and business owners will all have affordable broadband access from home and work. Danville will be the first city in the United States with free local high performance transport to every home and business--this is a bold statement that positions Danville as innovative and forward thinking. Combined with the mild climate and plentiful office space, Danville will be well positioned for growth in the Knowledge Economy.
The current nDanville network will be expanded in phases. Phase One has been operational for more than four years, providing high performance fiber and Internet access for the City of Danville, the Danville schools, and Pittsylvania County government. Phase 2 is now being rolled out, and will offer access to businesses. Phase 3 will provide fiber to the premise access to all homes and businesses throughout the Danville utilities service region.
As part of the initiative, automated electric metering would be installed along with the broadband service. Danville Utilities would immediately begin to accrue cost savings from the automated meter reading and power management.
Service providers are being actively recruited to offer a variety of services on the network. These services will include Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, with both residential and business class offerings; network backup services, which are especially valuable to businesses; entertainment and video on demand packages; and home security, among others.
Danville Utilities will provide contract management for the private sector vendors, provide quality control for vendors to make sure services perform as advertised, and provide basic network management. Vendors will offer services via the nDanville multimedia services access point, which is already provisioned to support vendor connections to the network.
The primary goals of this regional effort are simple. We plan to install a regional fiber network that will deliver advanced telecommunications capabilities to every resident, public safety agency, educational institution, healthcare facility, and business in the Danville Utilities service area. By installing this regional fiber network, we will enable services that will enhance the quality of life in our region beyond the day-to-day benefits of television and Internet access. This network would:
- Facilitate rapid communication between safety agencies and between agencies and our residents and businesses;
- Increase educational opportunities by connecting homes and businesses to the educational institutions in our communities;
- Improve the delivery of healthcare to the home, which provides additional means of connecting doctor to patient at a lower cost; and
- Create opportunities for business and economic development by opening the network to an untold number of services offered by private vendors.