Loudoun County’s government and school system are looking into a partnership that could use public buildings as hubs for expanding broadband coverage in western Loudoun.
The school system plans to spend $5 million installing a school division-wide, school division-owned fiber network to connect all of its facilities. The idea is to cut down the cost of extending internet access in the school system, where the need is growing exponentially. The county government’s own need for connectivity—while different, focusing on reliability and lower bandwidth reliability, such as for public safety communications, versus higher bandwidth for educational resources—is growing at a similarly exponential rate.
To cut down the cost of that project, the school system will be applying for federal funding to help pay for it.
The county could also join in that work, sharing the cost and benefit. And, county staff members say, private providers might be able to share that cost, too, extending their reach into some underserved parts of Loudoun.
“For the initial project, it’s just the schools,” said Assistant County Administrator John Sandy told the board’s finance committee on Tuesday. “It’s just furthering their broadband expansion. Ultimately, though, if we go through and do the analysis, and we look at the ability to further broadband to county facilities, there’s a potential … where the private sector may also be able to benefit from that same construction schedule and worksite.”
The county government is still early in that process. The county staff are still looking into the cost of hiring a contractor to assess the return on investment of hooking into the school system’s work.
The school system also may not extend fiber to all of its facilities where it is cheaper to subscribe to private internet service.
According to a report by county administration and IT staff, the county government requested proposals for expanding rural broadband and public-private partnership opportunities in March 2016. They received seven responses, including four from qualified potential contractors and one regional internet service provider, and also took meetings from other providers who did not submit responses for confidentiality reasons. But while the vendors were described as interested and supportive, none proposed a concrete solution to expanding broadband access in Loudoun’s rural reaches.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) expressed strong support for the project, and finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said there’s “no reason” not to explore the possibility, which would work toward a long-term strategic goal for the Board of Supervisors to expand broadband internet access into the county’s rural communities and homes.