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September 26, 2017 · OPINION

County broadband initiative “closer to completion”

By Rick Gerhardt
Chairman, Fauquier County
Board of Supervisors



September 21, 2017

To Fauquier County Citizens:

One of Fauquier County’s Board of Supervisors (FBOS) top initiatives is to deliver broadband internet service options to unserved and underserved areas of the county, while looking for ways to enhance and expand our commercial tax base. This week the board voted to accept a proposal that will push this initiative even closer to completion.

In early 2016, the FBOS commissioned the Fauquier Broadband Advisory Committee (FBAC), comprised of residents and business leaders, to identify such areas as those mentioned above and explore possible solutions. In January of this year, the FBAC completed its mission and presented its report to the Supervisors.

Next, Fauquier County Procurement issued a Request For Information (RFI), which focused on last mile broadband delivery options, as well as infrastructure development options. The RFI produced a vast amount of information. The most intriguing was the different business models other communities and companies were using to form working relationships with municipalities. These relationships are most commonly known as public-private partnerships, and generally include a shared approach to infrastructure expenses and revenue distribution.

Shortly after the completion of the RFI, the County received two unsolicited Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act or (PPEA) proposals offering Broadband and/or infrastructure related solutions.

An unsolicited PPEA proposal is a proposal received by the County, but not in response to a formal Request For Proposals. Once a PPEA proposal is received and evaluated, the FBOS can reject or accept any proposal considered. If it rejects a proposal, all information is sealed and returned to the relevant Proposer. If the County accepts, the County, under Virginia code, must issue a Request For Competing PPEA Proposals (RFPP) within 10 business days. Furthermore, once the County accepts a proposal, the proposal immediately becomes public information with the exception of any legally declared proprietary elements.

With the selection of Freedom Telecom Services, Inc. (FTS), the County has made public the selected Proposer’s offering and officially started the RFPP process. With the issuing of the RFPP, alternative providers have 45 days to submit competing proposals. At the end of this 45-day period, all competing conceptual proposals are reviewed and scored by County Procurement and a County-retained technical specialist.

From there, under Virginia law, the FBOS must once again decide to accept or reject RFPPs, and County staff will then move on to a detailed proposal submission phase, after which, if the FBOS so directs, staff will negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the selected Proposer, which then has to be presented in a public hearing before it can be officially executed, which then (finally) starts the actual contract award.

The FBOS expects to be in a position to make its final decision sometime in the first quarter of 2018. I outline the above process not to bore you, but rather to assure taxpayers this will be an open, thorough process.

Some may be wondering why the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors chose FTS.

First, their conceptual design provides an extensive fiber optic infrastructure that has the ability to serve Fauquier County residents, businesses, schools, and government both now and well into the future. Their proposed approach reaches throughout Fauquier and connects all County assets (schools, fire stations, etc.), creating the opportunity to enhance services at these locations while also realizing long-term cost savings by reducing the reliance on single-provider leased solutions.

This proposed approach also provides a backbone infrastructure using proven technology that commercial service providers can utilize to deliver wired and wireless broadband, as well as other technology services to County residents and businesses. In essence, their solution provides a willing investment in the infrastructure necessary to support delivery of high speed Internet, phone and related services to Fauquier. This is the exact scenario the PPEA process was designed to foster.

Second, of the two options available for consideration, FTS has the only proven track record and a tested business model, currently deployed in Kent County, Maryland.

Third, their offering incorporates a public-private partnership, which enables the County to receive future returns on investment (ROI). These returns will ideally offset County expenditures on the overall broadband project.

In this case, returns are realized when any entity connected to the fiber infrastructure, uses said infrastructure to transmit data originating or terminating in Fauquier. For example: when a wireless service provider connects to the fiber infrastructure in order to deploy wireless broadband services to residents; when an internet service provider uses the infrastructure to connect directly to a home; or, when a commercial entity in Fauquier uses the fiber infrastructure to facilitate its operations. Ultimately, the County, under the FTS proposal, receives a portion of that revenue.

Fourth, FTS has demonstrated elsewhere that it is capable of bringing significant partners who quickly produce project revenue. These include last mile providers and commercial entities dependent on fiber. In order for this approach to be successful, FTS or any other future Proposer will need to consider delivering key “anchor” partners to the project, as it is our desire to ultimately see a significant commercial entity using the infrastructure, providing ROI to Fauquier, along with tax revenues and jobs.

Finally, the FTS fiber infrastructure provides capabilities to other entities enabling them to compete directly with larger providers such as Comcast and Verizon. This is successfully being done in Kent County, Maryland where a private provider called Think Big, in partnership with FTS, is connecting residents to FTS’ fiber infrastructure and making high speed internet, entertainment and communications readily available to local citizens at competitive pricing. Not only do rural areas of Fauquier potentially win with this project but, so do densely populated areas with existing service options, such as Bealeton, Remington, Warrenton and large subdivisions.

Our ultimate goal is to engage with a Proposer who is willing to build a revenue-producing infrastructure that provides needed connectivity to county assets, facilitates last mile solutions, and offers return on investment for the County through revenue sharing and economic expansion.

In closing, let me take a moment to dissuade the naysayers of the notion that this Board of Supervisors is going to spend $20 million to merely provide broadband for only 10,000 underserved and unserved households. That notion is simply false. I can assure you this Board has no such intention and recognizes that such a proposal would be a folly at the local taxpayers expense. This is a substantial project with multiple wins for individual households, commercial businesses and the County as a whole.

We look forward to working with all County residents throughout this process.
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BJ · September 29, 2017 at 1:20 pm
Why don't we wait to see if this pans out before signing on the dotted line?

The Democratic Party is making high-speed Internet access a new plank in its economic agenda as it tries to regain trust among middle-class Americans in the country's heartland.

Democratic lawmakers are calling for $40 billion in new federal funding for infrastructure projects for rural and tribal areas and other regions, whose access to fast, affordable broadband has lagged behind that of dense, urban areas. The proposal, unveiled Thursday, would have Internet providers compete for the right to build out the networks. Also local governments and cooperatives would be eligible for funding, according to a party white paper on the matter.
Jim Griffin · September 26, 2017 at 8:06 pm
Thank you, Mr. Gerhardt, for the hard work, personal interest and tenacity you've pored into this project. It is a wise long-term investment into our county's future.
nonewtaxes · September 26, 2017 at 5:09 pm
So was is the true notion. How much will it cost? How many households will it serve? How is it better than what is available to those of us with broadband service? Where are the financials?
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