CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citynet has already started to install fiber-optic networks in West Virginia as part of the Internet service provider's plan to bring faster broadband services to the state in a multi-year project, the company's CEO said Thursday.
Jim Martin said the Bridgeport-based company already has invested $20 million in its first phase of the statewide project.
Martin and Citynet Chief Financial Officer Todd Dlugos attended the monthly West Virginia Economic Development Authority meeting Thursday to get preliminary approval for a $7 million loan that will help finance the project.
Martin said Citynet plans to spend up to an additional $15 million -- including the $7 million loan -- in the first phase of the five-phase project.
The first phase, which should be completed in two years, will focus on the north-central part of West Virginia because it is "a dense fiber optic network," Martin said.
"Citynet recognizes the broadband challenges West Virginia faces, and its primary challenge is lack of infrastructure," Martin said. "Citynet has a vision to build new infrastructure throughout West Virginia but, initially, we're going to focus on the north-central area."
Martin said Citynet has been "silently doing this for the past year." Citynet has already constructed 40 miles of fiber-optic networks of the 130-mile route planned for phase one.
Some of that fiber has been installed at the Bridgeport Public Library, as previously reported by the Gazette.
The state used $7,400 in federal stimulus funds to bring high-speed fiber to the Bridgeport library -- part of a $126.3 million statewide broadband expansion project.
However, the library couldn't afford to pay for the new fiber line -- built by Frontier Communications -- and didn't want to wait years for the state to fix its e-rate contract, so the router was passed onto the city of Bridgeport and installed at a data center owned by Citynet.
The router now serves all city departments -- including the public library, fire department, police department and a cemetery -- on a separate fiber network built by Citynet. The router also will run the city's phone system.
Because Frontier owns the stimulus-funded fiber network, Citynet had to install its own fiber line to the library and charged $800 -- nearly 10 times less than what Frontier billed the state under the federal grant.
The average Internet residential customer in West Virginia today gets broadband speeds of 1 megabit per second, Martin said. Businesses get 3 megabits per second, he said.
EDA members voted to give preliminary approval to the $7 million loan. It will be up for final approval next month.
With the new high-speed infrastructure, Citynet's plan is to bring 1 gigabit per second to West Virginians, 1,000 times the current speed, Martin said.
"The only way to achieve that is to invest in infrastructure in fiber-optic networks," Martin said.
Citynet's plan is similar to the Google Fiber project, he said.