Regions Southwest Virginia

Firm moves ahead with broadband expansion

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

Sunset Digital Communications in Duffield is making headway in a project to bring broadband to 2,500 customers in Tennessee.

The project — announced in 2010 — should be completed by 2014, with a majority of the customers getting broadband access by the end of this year, according to Sunset’s owners, Paul and Ryan Elswick. In addition to Internet access, Tennessee customers also will be offered television and phone services.

Sunset provides broadband service to underserved communities in Southwest Virginia and Tennessee. It was a finalist in last year’s Resilience Awards, a program sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business recognizing companies that have persevered in difficult economic conditions.

Completion of the project will expand Sunset’s service area to Hancock and Claiborne counties in Tennessee. The company also hopes to provide service to 500 additional Virginia customers this year.

In 2010 Sunset Digital Communications received more than $24 million in stimulus funds for the Tennessee project.

Around the same time, Sunset and LENOWISCO LLC, the Internet subsidiary of LENOWISCO Planning District Commission (an economic development entity for Lee, Wise, Scott counties and the city of Norton), also were awarded $20 million in stimulus funds to expand the LENOWISCO Rural Area Network in Lee and Wise counties. Those funds, however, were rescinded the next year after Sunset and the commission couldn’t agree on lease terms.

The commission filed a lawsuit against Sunset in March 2011 saying it was in default of its contract. The suit was withdrawn last spring. Last fall, the commission sold LENOWISCO LLC to Scott County Telephone Cooperative, and the Elswicks say they’re negotiating new lease terms with that company.

“A partnership with Scott County Telephone Cooperative will finally put to rest the majority of the legal arguments that have been going on for over two years,” Ryan Elswick said in an email. “This will mean that Sunset can get back to doing what we do best — connecting customers and providing next generation broadband, TV and telephone services.”

Sunset serves schools, libraries, hospitals, banks and more than 1,000 customers in Southwest Virginia and Johnson City, Tenn. Although Comcast, Dish and Direct TV are competitors in some of its service areas, “generally speaking, no, there are not a lot of broadband options for these people,” says Elswick. The largely rural areas that Sunset serves don’t have enough houses per square mile for bigger companies to make a profit, he says. 

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