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MINet network growing
Thursday, September 19, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The number of businesses using a local public fiber-optic communications network is growing.
Fifty-three Martinsville-Henry County businesses are receiving Internet and/or phone service through the Martinsville Information Network (MINet), Mayor Kim Adkins said Wednesday during her State of the City address.
That number, which includes nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions as well as for-profit businesses, is up from 38 as of the end of January, based on information provided by city officials at that time.
Twenty potential customers are on a waiting list for service, according to city Telecommunications Manager Mike Scaffidi.
Right now, MINet is available in most parts of Martinsville and as far outside the city as Bassett Forks and Stanleytown, Scaffidi said.
“We keep adding a few customers each month” as city crews are able to extend fiber-optic lines to them, he said.
The city established MINet in the late 1990s to supply high-speed voice and data-sharing services to city government buildings and infrastructure such as electrical substations and traffic signals.
As costs for communications services increased over the years, businesses and organizations outside city government asked to use MINet, claiming it was a better deal than private services, and the city let them.
Adkins said MINet is expected to generate roughly $250,000 in revenue for the city in the current fiscal year. She said that when firms on the waiting list are hooked to the network, the city will get about $90,000 more in revenue.
City officials hope MINet will have at least 75 customers within five years. If that number can be achieved, the network’s annual revenue stream will be as much as $600,000 to $700,000, Adkins estimated.
“I don’t know about you,” she told about 100 people at the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, “but I think this is a lot of money,” with a potential for more as MINet can be expanded.
According to Scaffidi, MINet customers pay different amounts for service based on how many phone lines and/or how much Internet bandwidth they need. Asked about basic prices, he said one telephone line would cost $35 per month while 10 megabits of Internet service would cost $80 monthly.
A megabit, according to an online definition, is a unit of data size or — when expressed per second — network speed, equal to 1,048,576 bits.
Basically, the more capacity that is bought, the more the price drops, said Scaffidi, adding “we do our best to be competitive” with private services.
The city earlier this year decided not to pursue a massive expansion of MINet, largely due to cost.
When new customers can be hooked into the network, they generally are added in terms of their order on the waiting list. However, the first priority is expanding services to existing MINet customers when they ask for it, such as when they expand their businesses, according to Scaffidi.
Adkins said that in attracting companies to the community, MINet has been “the city’s best-kept secret ... but it’s not a secret anymore.”
She noted that the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate, the Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Growth (C-PEG), are in talks about creating a “Startup Martinsville” campaign to promote MINet to try to “attract the most innovative entrepreneurs worldwide.”
Chamber President Amanda Witt declined to elaborate because a formal campaign plan has not yet been established.
MINet never has been formally marketed, Scaffidi said.
With 20 firms on the waiting list, he said, “we’re really backlogged,” and he thinks it would not be right to market MINet until everyone who has requested the service so far can receive it.