HONAKER, VA – January 27, 2023 – Expanding Internet service to help eliminate the digital divide for those living in rural areas of Russell County, Va., is the primary goal of Air Fiber Communications, Inc. as the new business seeks to provide residents with the ability to access remote work opportunities, utilize the Internet for school or college training and have access to resources enabling them to participate in the digital economy.

Air Fiber Communications, Inc. was a recent recipient of a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching Grant.

“One of VCEDA’s seed capital qualifying business sectors is information technology and Air Fiber Communications, Inc., falls into that category as it seeks to provide and grow Internet access to e-Region residents,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “The business is projecting 12 full-time jobs within five years, according to its application.”

The business, owned by Jodi Eaton and Joshua Eaton, opened officially last April and owns its own towers and has space on others leased. The Wireless Internet Service Provider — or WISP – and its primary customers are those living in rural regions of Russell County who have limited or no high-speed Internet options.

According to Joshua Eaton, current service areas include those in Honaker, New Garden Road, Finney and River Mountain and plans are to further expand service to Rosedale and toward Claypool Hill and possibly, he said, into the Town of Lebanon.

“The goal for Air Fiber Communications is to eliminate the digital divide for residents who live in rural regions and who are unable to access reliable high-speed Internet from traditional ISPs,” Eaton said. “We determine where to go based on the largest need or interest in our services.”

The company, which opened in April 2022 with 18 subscribers, currently has a subscriber base of 157.

Eaton noted the VCEDA seed capital grant was utilized toward the purchase of transmission equipment related to tower installation and for inventory of receivers and routers needed for end users to access Internet service.

“The VCEDA grant gives us a good advantage to grow the business as we expand,” Eaton said. “It helps to make us competitive against some of the bigger companies in this area and allows us to work as a small company with local residents.”

Rates, he said, are competitive at $45 per month for 25 mbps (megabytes per second) download speed and 5 mbps upload; $60 per month for 50 mbps download and 20 mbps upload speeds; $75 per month for 100 mbps download and 50 mbps upload speeds; and $100 per month for 150 mbps download and 50 mbps upload speeds. All plans are unlimited and have no data caps. Service is available for both residential and business customers.

The Eatons worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Southwest Virginia  Community College (SWCC) in developing their application to VCEDA and received a letter of support from the Russell County Industrial Development Authority.

“This grant will enable Air Fiber Communications, Inc. to expand its wireless Internet services into the underserved areas of Big A Mountain, River Mountain, Cleveland and Rosedale,” said Margie Douglass, SBDC program manager at SWCC . “With the award of the Seed Capital Matching Fund Grant to businesses in the information technology industry, such as Air Fiber Communications, we are able to upgrade and extend our infrastructure in the area for the benefit of its residents and businesses. The SBDC looks forward to seeing the growth and services that will result from the award of this grant.”

“Having Internet access is now considered to be a basic need and substantially affects an individual’s quality of life,” said Russell County IDA Executive Director Ernie McFaddin. “As we have seen with COVID-19, Internet access greatly affects our children’s ability to participate in public education.  We are pleased that Air Fiber Communications will be able to expand its offerings within Russell County and provide wireless Internet coverage in some of the more rural communities within Russell County.”

The business is located at 5162 Redbud Highway and may be reached by calling 276-991-9140 and may also be found on Facebook.

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses, within qualifying business categories, one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton.