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August 9, 2017

Grant will fund rural broadband pilot project

Waterford Telephone, a one-man company in Loudoun, provides DSL service using Verizon copper lines from switch boxes connected to fiber optic cable.
My ultimate goal is to develop an infrastructure that supports and promotes last-mile broadband solutions and develops commercial opportunities for the county, which ultimately expand our tax base.
— Supervisor Rick Gerhardt
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Staff Journalist
Connectivity in Rural FauquierThe relatively simple and inexpensive system may be a solution to providing broadband internet service throughout Fauquier County.

Relying on existing fiber optic cable, Verizon terminals and additional equipment, Loudoun-based Waterford Telephone Co. could begin providing high-speed internet access to Fauquier homes early next year, President Bruce Davis said.

The small-scale project would give Mr. Davis a chance to demonstrate to the county board of supervisors that his model for extending broadband service to rural areas can work in Fauquier.

Founded in 2012, Waterford Telephone has more than 250 Loudoun customers. Using existing copper lines, the company provides DSL (digital subscriber line) service that starts at $69.99 a month. Waterford promises download speed of 24 megabytes per second.

Mr. Davis, who works for a telecommunications company, runs his one-man firm on the side.

In a meeting earlier this year with the supervisors, he admitted that Verizon and other phone companies have de-emphasized copper lines. But, Mr. Davis said the state won’t allow phone companies to abandon copper lines in favor of wireless service any time soon.

The supervisors Thursday will authorize Chairman Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) to sign an agreement that will allow the company to use a $50,000 PATH Foundation grant the county has received to buy and install equipment needed to provide broadband service in each of Fauquier’s five magisterial districts.

Initially, Waterford Telephone hopes to sign up 250 customers — 50 per district.

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.

Mr. Gerhardt, who headed the county’s broadband committee, thinks the Waterford model could be part of a multifaceted approach to providing internet service to underserved areas.

But, “the last-mile solution” — providing high-speed connections between fiber optic cable and rural homes — likely will include new technology and more telecommunications towers, the chairman said.

Last week, site work started for the long-awaited,140-foot telecommunications tower near Casanova, Mr. Gerhardt noted.

“I don’t think there’s any one answer that fits the county overall,” he said. “It’s going to be a hybrid solution, at the end of the day.

“My ultimate goal is to develop an infrastructure that supports and promotes last-mile broadband solutions and develops commercial opportunities for the county, which ultimately expand our tax base.”

Under the agreement, Fauquier would receive 40 percent of the “gross profit” generated by the Waterford project.

Factors including the number of subscribers, level of service purchased and the cost of leasing capacity from fiber optic cable owners would figure into Fauquier’s cut.

“It’s too early to say” how much Fauquier would receive, he said.

But, “ideally, you use those proceeds that come back into the Fauquier broadband authority to do other things that promote last-mile solution or (internet) infrastructure for the county,” Mr. Gerhardt said.

Fauquier’s adopted 2018-23 Capital Improvements Plan calls for spending up to $20.6 million to extend broadband to as many as 10,000 rural homes.

Mr. Gerhardt would just as soon not spend a penny of that money, unless such expenditures guarantee a break-even or profitable return on investment for Fauquier.

“Access to broadband today means access to critical information and services,” PATH Communications Director Amy Petty said in a press release, explaining the organization’s approval of the $50,000 grant. “And we want to support Fauquier County’s efforts to solve the lack of broadband availability in the more rural areas of the county. We’ve been following the issue closely, and we’re excited about the work that’s been done so far.”

In a related matter, the Fauquier Broadband Authority will conduct its first meeting at 11 a.m. in the Warren Green Building at 10 Hotel St. in Warrenton. The supervisors will appoint themselves to the authority board and elect a chairman and vice chairman.

Fauquier Supervisors 8 10 2017 Agenda by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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Jim Griffin · August 12, 2017 at 10:58 am
The very highest quality Netflix uses only 25 mbps, which we see today -- yes, we have multiple copper connections in this county in various locations, so I write from experience -- over copper, and we find Netflix satisfying even below 5 mbps.

Our T1 at the farm at 1.5 mbps is good for streaming some video. And streaming audio is easy at that rate. We watch Netflix at the farm.

Bottom-line: Copper is far superior to satellite (no bandwidth caps!) and generally better than whatever wireless you can reach, although this may change with better towers. Indeed, you can buy Comcast copper/coax at over 100 mbps in some places.

The real issue: Line conditioning. Where line conditioning is properly performed, a pair of copper or copper coax can carry high bandwidth. Indeed, most internal bandwidth is copper and can do better than 1 gbps, but even Cat 3 copper is good for 10 mbps.

Search it yourself: twisted pair copper bandwidth. I am not making this up and I wonder what experience is involved where there are claims to the contrary. Yes, I'd like fiber, but good copper is plenty good enough for me, and I much prefer it to wireless, where all bandwidth is shared and leaves on trees interfere with signals, just to start the list of wireless problems.
RGLJA · August 12, 2017 at 8:14 am
I agree with others here. A wireless ISP solution is the only realistic, way to solve the 'last mile' issues in Fauquier county. Fiber is too expensive in low density rural areas, and copper is too limiting to satisfy what we call 'broadband' requirements today. Most people that sign up for the DSL copper solution will quickly wonder why they bothered with the expense and trouble, since they still won't get the HD video streaming from Neflix, Hulu, etc that they see their neighbors get with fiber. Email and light internet service is better than nothing, but it is not the solution that will satisfy a majority of users.

Some of the grandiose dreams of true broadband service to rural consumers, that were recently contemplated by the board of supervisors, should cause great alarm to the taxpayers of Fauquier County, but I give the board of supervisors credit for taking a small step now, with a low cost grant can help a few people without breaking the bank. I also agree with DKlacemaker that the BOS is not equipped to become the authority in this domain. Not by a long shot. They don't even know what they don't know. They are good people, but should never try to manage broadband service development nor deployment. They should partner with commercial entities who are prepared to use their own money to develop and operate this business, in cooperation with the BOS to clear legal/franchise hurdles. If a commercial company won't do it without a government subsidy, then it shouldn't be done.
Jim Griffin · August 11, 2017 at 10:02 am
1. Copper solutions are fine if the copper is right. Ours was replaced prior to T1 installation at the farm. We use copper-based, DSL connections in Warrenton that exceed 25 mbps (yes, megabits not megabytes, Comcast-provided) and others that do not (Verizon).

2. Copper does not equal dial-up. Very different technologies involved.

3. Wireless can be worse than copper, but not always. Local wireless is generally much better than satellite.

4. Fiber is always the goal if you are throwing ahead of the runner, anticipating the future. Some need it now.

5. In an odd contradiction, the article says Waterford guarantees 24 mbps but their current web site does not offer a sign-up option above 15 mbps -- and the connection is asymmetrical, uplink limited to 1 mbps.

6. I like small business and am inclined to favor Waterford (as one of many approaches), but it is worth emphasizing that this is one telco employee working part-time as a side job with a $50k grant that should largely cover the cost of equipment installation. It is easy to be skeptical that this is anything like a reliable solution. It is a seed and we can hope it grows, but it will need lots of support. Fertilizer, too, which us news commenters will provide in abundance.

7. Customer service is important; Every connection we have goes out on average once per month. Without a full-time employee, Waterford will struggle to meet expectations. Let us hope this seed attracts additional capital or it may prove to be embrace, extend, extinguish.
Southcountyguy · August 11, 2017 at 6:23 am
I commend the supervisors for taking on this important issue and I am pleased so far with the progress. However, entertaining the idea that DSL is the solution to the county's broadband problems is going down the wrong path. DSL is great but it is an outdated relic of the 1990s. I hope the county doesn't spend money on this old technology but instead looks at more innovative, blended solutions that are long term. I too have no broadband options other than satellite aka "Fraudband" out here in southern Fauquier. Please don't spend the county's money on outdated technologies which would be the equivalent of asking us to trade all our smartphones in for flip phones.
jdobbins · August 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm
This is great news. I live in Goldvein and here we have no cable, have Verizon satellite, and a Verizon Hot Spot. Verizon so far refuses to bring FIOS out here. Data transfer speeds are the pits. I would love to see this program come out here.
GuyFromBealeton · August 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm
Article has an error - He lists 24 MegaBYTES/sec, I think you meant MegaBITS, there is an important difference there, as no DSL in the world can pull 192 Mbps (24 * 8).

Regarding the state not allowing the carriers to abandon copper.....That is for 911 services only, so yes the copper might be there, but it doesn't mean it's the right option. You're just going to wind up with the same weather related issues, and low bandwidth that dial up has had. And with today's current internet trends morphing into data hogs, it's still going to be a poor user experience.

Why not just team up with a Wireless ISP (WISP) and forget about the copper problem all together? A WISP would allow the kids to game properly on their Consoles or PCs, since the signal isn't going all the way up to geostationary orbit and back down to earth. Going with a WISP will keep revenue local as well, and allow the service area to be much higher instead of being restricted to what the phone carriers have wired up.

DKlacemaker · August 10, 2017 at 1:05 pm
Using existing copper lines for DSL service may be a fine idea in some areas of the county, but some of us live in an area where the copper lines are some of the oldest in existence in the county and too far from the Verizon central office. For twenty years or more, we and our neighbors have lived with no service or incredible noise, static, and echo on the line after almost every rain fall. All, I might add, for the same price as if we had a perfectly clear line all the time. Verizon does come out to fix it at their convenience, but our complaints over the past 20 years have never resulted in replacement of the old copper lines. In fact, we went to satellite internet years ago because the old copper lines couldn't even handle delivering email. And years ago, speed was much slower than it is today. I can't see any DSL service using copper lines working in our area.

Regarding Fauquier's new Broadband Authority: It sounds so great that the county is establishing a new broadband authority. BUT, doesn't anyone see a problem with the board of supervisors appointing themselves to this new authority? How can you have a Broadband Authority presumably accountable to the Board of Supervisors when they are all the same people? What qualifications do the members of the board have that make them suitable for the new authority? Are any of them subject matter experts in communications technology? Just asking ...

B. Tessier

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