Shentel installs residential fiber optic across valley
A growing number of Shenandoah Valley communities are seeing more competition among broadband providers.
Edinburg-based Shenandoah Telecommunications Co., or Shentel, founded more than a century ago by farmers seeking improved telecommunications services for their rural communities, is still focused on that mission, though these days it’s a little more high-tech than it was in the days of candlestick telephones.
Shentel is laying fiber-optic lines for residences in Harrisonburg, Staunton, Winchester, Front Royal, Salem and Lynchburg. The company started offering residential fiber-optic service in a handful of Harrisonburg neighborhoods in October, with Staunton following in the first quarter of 2020. Shentel expects to begin offering service in the other cities later in 2020.
“This is huge for the city and, more importantly, for the citizens to be able to have competitive choices now in broadband services,” says Kurt Plowman, Staunton’s chief technology officer.
Shentel, which employs 1,000 people and sees about $600 million in annual revenues, is expanding upon a fiber backbone that extends along Interstate 81.
“We had a new chief operating officer, David Heimbach, come in about 18 months ago,” says Chris Kyle, Shentel’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “He started looking at all these capabilities in this area and started a conversation as to why we weren’t taking what we were proficient in and rolling it out to a residential market. We had to spin up that expertise — it uses the same technology but some different business principles. That was the nexus of what we have been doing.”
Harrisonburg and Staunton made sense as places to begin expansion into the residential market.
“We wanted to be part of the growth that Staunton is creating,” Kyle says. “Broadband can be one important piece of that. We were seeing all the new businesses along U.S. 250. Clearly, we felt like we were adjacent and in that area already.”
Shentel reached franchise agreements with Staunton in 2018 to install fiber optic lines, marketed as Glo Fiber, in the city. Last May, the city also granted Shentel a franchise for video services, providing customers with an alternative to Comcast. The fiber build will take years, but Kyle says the service gets “turned up” — Shentel’s term for coming online — as each neighborhood is completed.
Previously, “if people wanted a choice in TV service and didn’t like Comcast, they had to go to a satellite provider or streaming service,” Plowman says. “Up until last year, we didn’t think anyone would offer competition.”
Customers probably won’t see much of a change in prices for cable television and internet, but Plowman is glad city residents are getting more choices.
“I’m excited also because we’ve got increased competition,” Plowman says. “It makes Staunton even more of a cool place to live.”