Bristol recognized as technology leader

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Proving that small communities can be sophisticated, Bristol, Va., is one of seven cities and towns from around the world to be named finalists for the 2009 Intelligent Community of the Year award.
Four hundred fifty localities competed for the award, which will be presented in May by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum. The award program recognizes communities’ innovation in building “prosperity and social inclusion” in the emerging broadband economy.

Bristol was the only U.S. city to become a finalist this year. The city was picked because of its deployment of OptiNet. The fiber-optic network was conceived as a broadband backbone serving government agencies and schools. It has been expanded to serve businesses and residents throughout the city and several neighboring counties.

“It’s about as future-proof as you can get in today’s world,” says Wes Rosenbalm, CEO of Bristol Virginia Utilities. The city-owned public utility partnered with Cumberland Plateau Co. to implement OptiNet.

While other broadband systems use a mix of shared fiber and cable, OptiNet’s fiber-to-the-premises network offers a dedicated, point-to-point connection, allowing lightning-fast service on applications such as telemedicine, video-on-demand and telework.

“We literally run fiber from our office all the way to the home or the business, so we don’t have any limitations in our infrastructure other than what our electronics can handle, and those can be upgraded easily as needed,” Rosenbalm says.

Local officials credit OptiNet with attracting more than $50 million in new investment. City leaders think the Intelligent Community recognition and a recent Gold Award from the National League of Cities will attract the attention of more companies.

“This is publicity that you just cannot buy,” says Bristol City Manager Bill Dennison. “Having this type of technology available, along with the quality and performance we’ve demonstrated that we can provide, is, I think, going to be a tremendous asset in terms of attracting industry, not only to Bristol but to the entire region.”

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