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January 17, 2017 · OPINION

Incumbents seek to limit Va. broadband competition

By Rick Gerhardt
Fauquier County Board of Supervisors

The Broadband Deployment Act currently in the Virginia General Assembly (HB 2108) is a farce. It doesn’t seek to deploy broadband at all; rather it seeks to prevent anyone from competing with Comcast and other members of the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association.

Buried under 12 pages of Freedom of Information Act changes, you will find just three pages that focus on broadband “deployment” — if you can call it that. The bill sets up an obstacle course of red tape that a municipality must go through if it wants to provide broadband.

An example of this red tape is proving that giving subsidies to a for-profit company is not a valid option; basically municipalities have to prove that lining the pockets of large providers isn’t an effective solution.

Not to mention, if a municipality does get into the market, the bill takes away almost every price advantage it could provide for customers — again handing the advantage to large providers.

If someone is a Bureaucracy Ninja Warrior and manages to get through those obstacles, the proposed legislation puts in one final provision stating that any person who provides Internet services within a locality can take the municipality to court if he or she feels that any of their filings are incomplete, incorrect or false, in which case the municipality has to comply or cease to provide services. Who do you think would be pursuing those suits? Those with deep pockets and distaste for competition.

If the bill weren’t awful enough, it somehow manages to get worse, when you look at the Patron of the Bill in the Virginia Legislature, Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg). Del. Byron sits on the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council with Ray LaMura, president of the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA).

VCTA has given Del. Byron $15,000 in donations and her overall donation haul from the Technology and Communications sector is upwards of $140,000. It makes you wonder if VCTA handed Del. Byron the language for the bill at a Broadband Advisory Council meeting or when they handed her a campaign donation.

Mr. LaMura himself was on a Republican blog, Bearing Drift, last week defending the VCTA and bill:

The VCTA believes that the General Assembly should debate and establish a state policy to determine if local governments should be risking public dollars to build duplicative networks competing with the private sector that it also regulates, taxes and serves as the gatekeeper to the rights of way used to deploy broadband. We say no, and here’s why.

There are still Virginians, mostly in rural areas, without broadband service. As such, taxpayer funds should be prioritized for getting these residents broadband service, not building more broadband to people and businesses that already have it.

Suddenly the VCTA, a trade association built to lobby for the cable and telecommunication industry, is concerned about how municipalities in Virginia are spending their tax dollars? Oh right, because there’s a chance that money will not be going into their pockets. However, they are happy to let municipalities foot the bill when it comes to residents that don’t have broadband currently — rural localities that won’t produce profits instantaneously.

We don’t need more government regulations, particularly those being pushed by the private sector to deter competition. What we need in Fauquier County is real deployment of broadband, which is why the board of supervisors has made that one of our top priorities for 2017.

Please, contact your representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to let them know you oppose any such legislation:

Sen. Jill Vogel
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Del. Michael Webert
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Del. Mark Cole
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Del. Scott Lingamfelter
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The writer live near Catlett and represents Cedar Run District on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, which he chairs this year. He also chairs the Fauquier County Broadband Advisory Committee.
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htdnet · January 17, 2017 at 11:48 pm
Just out of curiosity, why do our nation's leaders using free/public e-mail addresses instead of .gov addresses that are managed by Government Information Technology Professionals to ensure the security of these e-mails. Granted they don't need to be sending/receiving classified information on these addresses. The Govt is free to get G Suite for their offices and even use .gov e-mail address but have it managed for compliance, security, HIPAA, and other regulations that I would expect official communications to take. Even's should be a registered domain with the Govt and managed as such, just my general opinion. Not that having an un-managed e-mail account had anything to do with recent political pitfalls.
Jim Griffin · January 17, 2017 at 9:35 pm
A strong statement, true leadership. Thank for standing up for the average families and small businesses caught by geographic circumstance, trapped in a time glitch that guarantees them voice lines but denies the data feed they need. Soon that data line will be their only access to voice, video and data.

Competition enabled by infrastructure is the key, so let's get started leading by example: Run fiber now to every school and government building. Down the road we can build off this infrastructure in extending the network.

Schools and government buildings are distributed across the county and are a non-controversial start, unquestionably within the power of the Board of Supervisors whatever may come from Richmond or Washington. Run lots more fiber than needed with more than enough capacity to feed an extended network.
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