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A Bedford County Planning Commission vote, Monday night, brought broadband Internet access one step closer for three elementary schools.
Bedford County Public Schools began a project last year to provide broadband Internet access to all county schools plus the central office. This raises data transfer rates from 1.5 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second. The central office and some schools were able to hook into an existing fiber optic system. According to Conterra Telecom Services, which is building the system for the school board, that left out nine schools. These were able to get broadband via wireless connections to existing communications towers. However, Boonsboro, Body Camp and Huddleston Elementary Schools were still left out.
The company came before the planning commission with special use permit requests for its solution. This involves erecting a slender concrete tower at each school. A parabolic dish at the top of each tower will receive a microwave signal and transfer it to the school via a coaxial cable. The towers must be near the school they serve because the cable can be no longer than 450 feet, according to company representatives. Beyond that, the signal will be too degraded to be reliable. Inside each school, the signal from the coaxial cable goes into a modem and is sent out over the school’s existing ethernet local area network.
The height of the towers will vary. The tallest, at Boonsboro, will be 111-feet tall. Body Camp will have a 75-foot tower and Huddleston’s tower will be 80-feet tall. The reason for this, according to company representatives, is that microwave transmission is line of sight. The transmitter sends out a beam which is aimed at the receiver’s dish antenna and the alignment of the transmitter must be precise.
The poles will be gray, unpainted concrete and have no external lighting. There is no ground equipment. According to Atlantic Telecommunications Consultants, the county’s consultant of communications towers, these concrete towers are similar to what the Virginia State Police use for microwave transmissions.
According to company representatives, the microwave transmission won’t pose a threat to anyone. It’s not an omnidirectional signal and the only way a human could be affected would be to be suspended directly in front of the tower’s antenna.
The visual impact of the towers was an issue for two speakers at the public hearings for the towers. Norman Corbitt, who lives next to Huddleston Elementary, said the tower’s proposed location is close to his home and would make a visual eyesore from his front porch. Conterra representatives talked with him and suggested moving it between 10 and 15 feet which would allow some 50-foot trees to shield it, reducing the visual impact. This satisfied Corbitt.
Corbitt said that his wife’s family was partially responsible for the school being there in the first place. He said his wife’s grandfather donated land to the county to build a school in the late 19th century.
The planning commission voted unanimously, with all planning commission members present, to approve all three towers.
“I think that broadband is the way to go for the schools,” commented District 6 Planning Commissioner Robin Hartman.
Hartman said that this is needed to make sure that Bedford area children have the same quality of education as those in other parts of the state.
Planning Commission Chairman Frederic Fralick was impressed with the way the company and Corbitt were able to work out the visibility issue that he raised. He said that it was particularly good to see people working out a problem.