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February 28, 2017 · OPINION

Richmond gets it right on broadband legislation

By Rick Gerhardt
Chairman, Fauquier County
Board of Supervisors

Del. Kathy Byron’s Broadband Deployment Act (HB 2108) was a farce, but under a new name, the Virginia Wireless Services Authority Act, it passed the Virginia Senate last week and will go to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for consideration.

The name change is indicative of how much has changed with this bill in the past month. Gone are the 12 pages of Freedom of Information Act changes; the entire bill is now a mere four paragraphs.

HB 2108 no longer limits municipal broadband efforts, like those here in Fauquier County. Instead, the bill now focuses on adding transparency requirements for municipal broadband entities.

This means that Fauquier’s board of supervisors can move forward with efforts to provide broadband access. It also means that taxpayers will have the upmost transparency about the efforts down to rates and fees charged by any municipal broadband entity — something everyone can support.

It took a name change and a rewrite, but Richmond got it right in this case; transparency is a good thing. As the county board continues to explore options and capital improvement project funding for broadband efforts, please, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, thoughts or opinions.

Cedar Run District’s representative on the board, the writer also chairs Fauquier’s Broadband Advisory Committee.
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Jim Griffin · March 6, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Geography I get, but how are demographics an obstacle in Fauquier County?

Aren't you assuming Fauquier takes a B2C approach as opposed to B2B?

How is broadband more socialistic than, say, the proposed airport? Or the library? WARF? And so on. Please explain.

Can you imagine that Verizon, subject to extensive regulation, simply follows the tariffs and rules imposed upon it? If so, why would you take their current regulated structure and assume it is a test of what the market might bear?

You raise a lot more questions than you answer. If the county hires a broadband leader, perhaps we can get more answers than questions.

nonewtaxes · February 28, 2017 at 8:50 pm
Dear R Ridgell,
I do not claim to have intimate knowledge of the situation nor does what I wrote imply that.

It is common knowledge to those who have followed this issue in the Fauquier Now that the two main obstructions to rural broadband in our county are demographics and geography. Additionally, if one does simple analysis on the pro forma financials submitted by Design Nine you might conclude that both the Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) are both probably negative. My calculations are not complete because I don't know the discount rate used by the county. The negative results indicate that the broadband plan as proposed by Design Nine and embraced by the BOS will require additional cash inflows by the county. That is to say it will not be profitable.

While the expert sought out by the county, Design Nine, provided a plan, the experts that work in the county provided their take on the situation early this year in the Fauquier Times. Those opinions were different from those of Design Nine - the county's current plan. Basically they said that the quality of information presented by Design Nine and used as the basis for their plan was suspect and the broadband system designed based on that information was thus also suspect.

Currently, as best as I can tell, there is no solution that doesn't require the require the majority of the taxpaying population to subsidize the broadband expenses of the minority. That's not a solution that's socialism.

While it's true that the Design Nine survey indicated that people want better and cheaper broadband service it is also true that a survey can word questions in such a way to get the answers it desires. It's probably premature to assume that the Design Nine plan will be embraced by the public. As far as I know, the details of the service have not been made public. What will be the download and upload speeds? What will be the monthly price? Will there be data caps? Will there be a tax increase to support the cost of operating the system?

I find it hard to believe that the county can provide a high quality, high speed, high data cap, highly dependable and cheap rural broadband service that can be profitable. Verizon can't and they are in the broadband business. In fact, I believe that if anybody had a plan that could deliver all of that they would be working overtime to install such systems. After all, isn't that what the county is selling to the taxpayers - a high speed, uncapped data, reliable, cheap, and profitable broadband system?

RRidgell · February 28, 2017 at 9:52 am
Good morning nonewtaxes,

Your concerns are noted, what solutions would you propose? Your comment appears to be void of solutions, yet seems to convey that you have intimate knowledge regarding the installations of broadband infrastructure in a municipal environment.

I would like to convey that the Broadband Committee that convened over the last year sought out a report from an expert in this field and options were provided that could allow us to overcome the topographic and density challenges identified in Fauquier. Additionally there is much work to do in determining an approach to this outlay. Chairman Gerhardt has and continues to act as a champion of this cause acknowledging that without more thorough broadband coverage Fauquier will stifle economically and find that it's homegrown young professionals are relocating. To this end a grassroots committee was assembled and pursued additional fact based information from experts on the topic.

While you are in part correct that some rural outlays have been fraught with setbacks or mismanagement, these scenarios are being examined and scrutinized to determine their causality. The supervisors will continue to seek experts in the fields of infrastructure construction and IT network implementation to guide these efforts and ensure a successful implementation. This may require time and reasonable expectations of the timeline for implementation and expansion of the system. If you examine the feedback from surveys and public opinion regarding a broadband outlay you'll see a clear desire for better options and not necessarily just for cheaper service. You'll see a market that needs competition to break the status quo and improve service to end users.

I would ask that you contribute your knowledge on the topic and help to create the solution.

nonewtaxes · February 28, 2017 at 7:54 am
Doesn't matter. That bill doesn't change the dual challenges of low population density and hilly geography. It is these two factors that prohibit a cash flow positive broadband system in rural counties.

The BOS in Faquier County is hellbent on rolling out broadband and to that purpose it is blind to reasonable concerns about the economic viability of the system - and they are manifold.

Take, for example, the BOS desire to hire a broadband manager without even having a broadband system to manage. The horse cometh before the cart. That can't end up too good.

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