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WideOpen Blacksburg is live!

WideOpen Blacksburg's first two fiber to the home neighborhoods are going live with Gigabit fiber and super-fast Internet this week (June 2017).  Once we complete the final work in these two neighborhoods, we will be working quickly to identify the next neighborhoods in Blacksburg and the New River Valley to receive our Gigabit fiber service.

Railroads and fiber: Part II: The Incumbents

As I continue to read "A Great and Shining Road" about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, I continue to be amazed at the number of parallels between that project and the effort to get fiber to homes and businesses today.

While the scale of the two projects is different (the railroad was going to span the continent, while fiber needs to be built within towns and cities), the *resistance* to the project is the same.

Some of the fiercest opposition to the proposed transcontinental railroad came from the incumbent railroads, who saw competition as a bad thing. The incumbents got newspapers to print mis-leading articles and they wined and dined legislators and told them there was no need for another railroad. One railroad magnate even grandly pronounced that there was no need for a transcontinental railroad because hardly anyone traveled between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Of course, there were few travelers because there was no easy way to get across the country--sailing around the tip of South America or traversing the Isthmus of Panama (death from yellow fever was common), or braving Indian attach going cross country were the only three options. Today, we have incumbent telecom providers saying the same thing: "No needs a Gig of bandwidth because no one is using a Gig of bandwidth."

Well, you can't use it if you don't have it.

Here we are, more than 150 years later, repeating history, fighting the naysayers and entrenching interests.</p>

Of course, we know how things turned out for the "crazy" concept of a transcontinental railroad: it transformed the nation and unleashed decades of economic growth across the entire country.

Railroads and fiber: Repeating history

I've been reading "A Great and Shining Road," by John Williams. It tells the story of the development of the transcontinental railroad, and has much detail in the beginning about the development of rail transportation in the U.S., as it started on the east coast.

The parallels to the last decade of development of fiber networks is remarkable. There was fierce opposition to the railroads from the entrenched canal and toll road owners and operators. It was difficult to get financing for the newfangled railroads because wealthy investors did not want to take any risks; they wanted to stick with the tried and true "old" transportation systems.

Fiber is the transportation system of the 21st century, but it is still seen as a risky investment by many. How is it a transportation system? Here is just one example: music. Music used to require physical roads to deliver records/CDs to customers. Today, music is *transported* by fiber networks directly to customers.

If you substitute the cable and phone companies for the toll road/canal owners of the railroad era, there is an amazing overlap in the issues of economic development, entrenched interests, investment capital, and community infrastructure.

In the end, railroads unleashed a long period of rapid economic growth, but the railroad visionaries had to overcome resistance from many sectors of the government and the economy.