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Hampton Roads Telecom Veteran Plays Big Part in Fiber Cable Networks

A longtime Hampton Roads telecommunications company is helping attract big-name tech giants like Facebook to the region – by building underground fiber-optic networks connecting the region to places like South America, Africa and Europe.

“This is going to be a big deal,” said Gary Tarpley, owner of Metro Fiber Networks in Yorktown. “This has been a big deal for Hampton Roads.”

Metro Fiber recently completed an underground and underwater fiber cable from White Oak Industrial Park in Henrico County to the Corporate Landing Industrial Park in Virginia Beach. The cable, which spans more than 200 miles, connects servers for entities like Facebook and data center company QTS to internet users on at least three continents.

Fiber cable networks are growing in Hampton Roads, and they are bringing along data center companies and high-paying tech jobs, said Rob Hudome, a senior project development manager with Virginia Beach Economic Development.

“We are anticipating working with several data center developers in Virginia Beach,” Hudome said.

A communications company is planning to build an underwater fiber cable to Africa that starts at Virginia Beach, according to a May 8 article in The Virginian-Pilot. It would be the third underwater cable planned for construction in the city – Microsoft and Facebook recently finished a subsea cable connecting to Spain; and Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica just finished a cable to South America a few weeks ago, and are testing it out now.

“That’s the fastest subsea cable in the world now,” Tarpley said of the Telefonica cable.

Tarpley added several more underwater cables projects are in the works, with official announcements to come later.

Data centers supported 3,547 jobs in Hampton Roads and 43,275 jobs statewide in 2016, according to a report from the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

These fiber networks are not the same as commercial internet providers – like Cox Communications or Verizon Fios – Hudome said. Instead, they help connect data centers for companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and others, helping users with faster data speeds.

“If you’re using Facebook, it’s going to work better,” Hudome said.

Other local private and public organizations have also begun to install fiber networks through Metro, Tarpley said. For example, the company recently helped connect emergency response services in York County to a fiber network.

Metro’s parent company, Cable Associates, has been a utility contractor in Hampton Roads for more than 35 years. Tarpley said he has been installing fiber networks for years, but the network type has exploded in popularity recently as the internet has developed.

Looking to the future, Tarpley said Metro is connecting Newport News to data centers in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a 172-mile underground network. Planning is almost complete, and he expects construction to begin near the end of the year. – Pilot Online

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