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July 28, 2016

County seeks to map strategy for broadband

The solution might involve extending fiber optic cable beyond densely-populated places and distributing service wirelessly to remote areas of Fauquier.
The blue shading depicts areas with fiber optic broadband available, according to the Virginia Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance.
I don’t think you can survive a day without broadband.
— Rick Gerhardt, county supervisor
Broadband Study
• Purpose: Develop strategy to expand high-speed internet connectivity in Fauquier.

• Who: Design Nine Inc., Blacksburg.

• Details: Consultant will provide location/inventory of broadband infrastructure; identify areas lacking broadband access; options to fund infrastructure.

• Cost: $60,000
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He believes Fauquier’s “future” hinges on extending broadband internet connectivity throughout the county.

“It’s about economic viability, more people can work at home . . . and education,” said Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District), who pushed to create the county broadband advisory committee. “We’ve got kids in this county who can’t do their homework without going to McDonald’s.

“I don’t think you can survive a day without broadband,” said Mr. Gerhardt, a member of the 10-person committee created in March.

> Survey for residents

> Survey for businesses

Fauquier Economic Development Director Miles Friedman called high-speed service critical to growing businesses and recruiting new firms.

“It’s an issue that absolutely demands attention,” Mr. Friedman said.

Fauquier’s rural residents lack the robust internet access that citizens with broadband — in Warrenton, Bealeton, Marshall and other populous areas — take for granted.

Cellular and satellite connectivity — both of which can be spotty and expensive — provide the only options in much of Fauquier. Trees, terrain and lack of population density pose significant challenges.

To close the county’s “digital divide” between rural and developed areas, Fauquier’s supervisors hired Blacksburg-based Design Nine Inc. to help craft a strategy.

The consulting firm’s $60,000 “assessment and feasibility” study will focus on economic development, education, public safety, healthcare and “quality of life.”

It will evaluate potential solutions, costs and funding options.

Solutions could include a combination of new fiber optic cable and antennae that extend high-speed wireless service to rural areas, Mr. Gerhardt said.

Because his firm started only a month ago, “it’s a little early to say” anything about solutions in Fauquier, said Design Nine President Andrew Cohill. The company has planned, designed and built broadband networks in 25 Virginia communities and more than 20 states.

Initially, “we do a lot of mapping, looking at population density, unserved and underserved areas – where the growth is,” Dr. Cohill said.

Fauquier “is an interesting place, because it’s had a lot of rapid growth in the last 10 to 15 years” but contains large northern and southern areas that lack internet service, he added.

Mapping can be difficult because internet service providers – cable, phone and wireless companies – won’t disclose details about their assets for competitive reasons, he suggested.

But, a map created by the Virginia Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance indicates concentrations of fiber optic broadband around Marshall, New Baltimore, Warrenton, Opal, Remington, Bealeton, Midland, Catlett and Calverton.

Design Nine created two online surveys – one for businesses, the other for residents – to help the county understand “how different people in different areas are using (the internet), or not using it, because they can’t get it,” said Deputy County Administrator Katie Heritage, who staffs the broadband advisory committee.

Fauquier’s population stood at 67,898 and the county had 26,451 households last July, according to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

About 3,756 businesses operate in Fauquier and Warrenton, according to county and town records.

“I’d be willing to bet we get more than 2,000 (survey) responses,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “It’s such a hot topic.”

The consultant’s report also will provide funding options, which could include federal and/or state grants, as well as local money.

Mr. Gerhardt believes the board of supervisors and citizens would support spending tax revenue to expand broadband. He suggested it could require creation of an independent broadband authority to build and manage the network.

“I think this is something the board is serious about,” he said. “I think there’d be a higher tolerance for people to pay a little more for broadband.

“We’re trying to bring broadband to the entire county, to build an infrastructure that won’t break the bank.”

Funding for broadband infrastructure would be treated as a capital project. “It would have to compete” with other public projects such as schools, Mrs. Heritage said.

Mr. Gerhardt said construction could begin in 2017 and would be phased over several years.

“It’s going to be a challenge” which areas would be the first to broadband first, he admitted. “Density is a factor.”

Broadband Feasibility Study, Design Nine-FC by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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Jim Griffin · August 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm
If you are a business, you can get broadband anywhere. Utility commission ought require telcos to extend a line to anyone involved with the schools (student, teacher, staff), military/govt or healthcare as if they were a business as regards net access. A T1 for every child.
Silii · July 29, 2016 at 11:37 pm
Accessibility to broadband is one of the top,priorities of Jane Dittmar, candidate for US Representative for Virginia 5th Congressional District. VA 5th stretches from Fauquier County to the North Carolina line. She knows that thousands of school aged children in the 5th district don't have Internet access, resulting in a huge educational deficit and thousands of adults without Internet access have no way to apply for jobs. Jane Dittmar deserves everyone's vote this November.
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