Planners recommend approval for tower

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

STRASBURG — A new company providing wireless fiber optic Internet service hopes to build a telecommunications tower in Strasburg.

Virginia Air Networks, Inc. is asking the town for a special-use permit to build a 65-foot tower at 458 Radio Station Road near the Northern Shenandoah Business and Industrial Park.

During its meeting on Aug. 22, the town’s Planning Commission recommended that council approve the request on the condition that the company agree to store equipment at the site for other telecommunications companies.

The tower would provide Internet service throughout the Valley. Joe Jones, Virginia Air Networks’ co-owner and vice president, said the company hopes to provide “much-needed competition” to an area where Shentel provides many residents’ Internet, television and phone services.

Calls to William Pirtle, Shentel’s senior vice president, were not returned on Tuesday.

Council will vote on the request during its next meeting on Sept. 12.

The permit’s condition on equipment storage is needed to prevent requests from other companies to build stations and storage sites in town, Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said on Tuesday.

The Winchester-based company plans to have the tower built within two weeks of the permit’s approval, Jones said. No final cost has been detemined, he said, but Virginia Air Networks will pay for all construction costs.

Jones is also negotiating to rent office space on Founders Way, less than a mile from the proposed tower site, so the company can move from Winchester to Strasburg, he said.

Virginia Air Networks launched in June and is co-owned by Jones, a 10-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, and Jim Hockman, owner of the Papermill Place restaurant in Winchester.

Their goal, Jones said, is to extend their reach to people who can’t access high-speed Internet in Shenandoah, Rockingham, Frederick, Warren, Clarke, Page and Rappahannock counties.

“We’re trying to reach areas where people can’t get online at all,” he said. “There’s no Comcast and none of the big chains are out there for them.”

In a letter sent to council, Jones also plans to partner with Shenandoah County Public Schools and the county’s Department of Social Services to provide poor families with free basic wireless Internet access once the tower is installed.

The letter called the outreach “a way of giving back to our community.”

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