Fraser, LaRock Host Broadband Connectivity Discussion

Some western Loudouners walked away from Thursday night’s town hall meeting in Purcellville with a better sense of why parts of the county are lacking in broadband connectivity, but the solutions remained unclear.

About 40 residents showed up at Purcellville’s Carver Center on May 16 for an information session, hosted by Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser and Del. Dave LaRock (R-33), to learn more about why internet connections in rural Loudoun are inferior to those in the more developed parts of the county and to learn about what internet providers and the state and local governments are doing to improve service.

Fraser said high-speed conductivity is critical for families and is needed to teach, work and play. He pointed to the growing importance of big data, which he called “the new Texas T, black gold.”

Tim Dennis, the president and cofounder of the Loudoun-based Invisible Towers and the chairman of the Loudoun Communications Commission, presented attendees with information on the amount of data the typical resident uses and why broadband is so difficult to come by in certain areas.

Dennis said it takes 2-4 gigabytes of data to download a single “Game of Thrones” episode, which to some users could equate to half of their monthly data plan, and that the Federal Communications Commission estimates 90 percent of 911 calls are made from cell phones.

Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser talks with Invisible Towers President Tim Dennis following a public information session on broadband connectivity. [Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now]
Dennis noted that it’s physics, finances and laws at the local, state and federal levels that constrain broadband technology from reaching everyone and that the county can’t do much to help other than approve the installation of more towers. “This is not a quick solution, there are no one solution answers to this challenge,” he said.

Jimmy Carr, the CEO of All Points Broadband and a fixed wireless industry representative on the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, made it clear that wireless internet only works if there’s a clear line of sight between a user’s home and the tower.

He said that for broadband to become more prevalent, the public sector needs to collaborate with and support local providers and build new infrastructure. He also said that internet providers need to support improved broadband mapping and that consumers need to understand that there might not be enough of a demand for improved internet connectivity in their area to attract providers.

Courtney Dozier, the chief deputy broadband advisor to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative and the chief deputy at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said Virginia is working to identify where broadband connectivity is needed and which service providers are willing to expand in those areas. She noted that there are 645,000 Virginia residents living without high speed broadband—an issue she said would cost the commonwealth about $1 billion to fix.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” she said. “This is about equity no matter how you slice it.”

When asked why Virginia doesn’t provide maps depicting which areas are underserved, Dozier said the commonwealth is focused on spending money to connect people to the internet rather than spending that money on mapping out where the problem lies. She noted that the county administrator and thousands of residents know where the problem points are.

“It’s an imperfect solution, but maps take money and people want solutions not maps,” she said. “That’s just a function of prioritization.”

Del. Dave LaRock (R-33) talks with a resident about broadband connectivity following a public information session on the topic. [Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now]
Zenon Dragosz, the county government’s administrator of Loudoun’s Broadband & Cable TV Services, outlined what the county is doing to help the situation. He said that, while the Board of Supervisors adopted a comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendment in 2016 to allow for the faster development of cell towers up to 50 feet tall, that initiative helps eastern Loudouners more than it does those out west.

Dragosz said that broadband is essentially an unregulated industry and that, although providers can simply get VDOT permits to run fiber along highways without notifying the county, those providers aren’t willing to provide service in western Loudoun at a cost of $115,000 for one mile of fiber.

“There’s not much I can do to persuade them or encourage them to expand out into rural parts of the county … but we keep pushing,” he said. “Loudoun County is moving forward, it’s not moving as fast as we’d like to see, but it is moving forward.”

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) also spoke at the meeting, emphasizing a common point that the broadband coverage dilemma is finance-driven. He said the county is trying to provide incentives for providers to move into Loudoun by lowering their cost of doing business and that it’s looking to lower the regulatory barriers to providers. “We want to make it more profitable for them to do business here so they want to do business here,” he said.

Also present at the town hall were former state delegate Randy Minchew, Round Hill Mayor Scott Ramsey and Lovettsville Councilman Mike Dunlap, in addition to representatives from Wave2Net, Sugarloaf Network Systems, Winchester Wireless and All Points Broadband.

Fraser said the town hall was the first of many. LaRock told residents to ask for more information sessions if they found Thursday’s useful. “I think we’re scratching the surface here,” he said.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

9 thoughts on “Fraser, LaRock Host Broadband Connectivity Discussion

  • 2019-05-17 at 4:55 pm
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    More talk. Same excuses. No action or progress.
    Municipal broadband? Big telcos won’t allow that. Politicians in need of campaign funds won’t even speak of it.

  • 2019-05-17 at 7:27 pm
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    Higgins has had 8 years to show results. LaRock, 4 years. The result? Nothing. In this election year, this is a photo op to pretend they are concerned. Both are most invested not in service to citizens, but in their re-election.

  • 2019-05-17 at 10:25 pm
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    If Minchew was there you know it was somehow a “make developers more money” sort of thing.

  • 2019-05-18 at 8:21 am
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    If we’d allowed industry to use these same excuses back in the 20’s, then there would be no phone service in rural homes either. The only way it gets fixed is when politicians summon enough spine, act like leaders instead of sheep, and force industry to serve these unpopulated areas. We elect people to do things, not spount industry talking points.

  • 2019-05-20 at 5:57 pm
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    I think you mean if Minchew and Higgins were there, it is a “make more money for developers or insider” kind of thing. The pair are great at doing the dirty work, indeed.

  • 2019-05-21 at 7:06 am
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    These same complainers would have chastised LaRock and Fraser for doing nothing.

  • 2019-05-21 at 6:19 pm
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    I notice two names that weren’t mentioned anywhere in the article, Comcast and Verizon. Both make a ton of money providing broadband and cable TV services in the eastern half of the county. Why is the county not making expanding services to the Western half of the county a requirement as franchise agreements come up for renewal? In many parts of the country providers are required to provide service to parts of counties that would otherwise not be profitable in order to enjoy the large profits from the remaining parts.

  • 2019-05-22 at 9:41 am
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    Its not clear why we should subside broadband for anyone. You choose where you live.

    If Eastern Loudouners are asked to pay up for broadband for Western Loudouners, then maybe Western Loudouners should pay up to help fund the transportation infrastructure in Eastern Loudoun. Fair is fair, right?

    • 2019-06-06 at 12:34 pm
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      Western Loudouners are not paupers who can’t or won’t pay their own way. Western Loudoun rural residents and business owners would gladly pay a fair price for broadband services. However for many of us there is simply no service available. For my property, I can get a POTS line(plain old telephone line) for $89.99 month without long distance service as that is extra. When I lived in Leesburg, I had 250/75MB FIOS with CABLE, VOIP and free long distance for $79.99 month. Where is the equity in this model? Now when that POTS line fails there are no technicians available at Verizon to fix that line as that technology is dead and they don’t want to service it any longer. Additionally, Western Loudouners do pay for the infrastructure in the east. We pay the same property tax rates as other Loudoun County residents, But for our money we enjoy very few services that you ake for granted. We have to pay the toll road taxes, and greenway charges as it is impossible for us to do a simple WEBEX from home. As small businesses we cannot provide wifi broadband access to customers at our restaurants, wineries, and other venues. So i would propose that all Verizon/Comcast/ATT and any other national broadband customer have to pay a $20.00 a month tax until the disparity in the USA is completely mitigated. Most Eastern Loudoun residents can now get Gigabit Ethernet download speeds for $79.99 month. In rural loudoun we get fixed wireless at 4/1 MB down/up for that price. But 4/1 is best case, usually All points broadband gives you 1MB down and .5 mb up. Where you can get the 25/3 service for All Points it is $299.00 month. When the President of that business said they can do 25/3 to all of western loudoun that is a lie. I checked a couple weeks ago before i switched to FIXED LTE service and that antenna is still and has been waiting for an upgrade for 5 years. I would like to see state and national legislation that would pay for our USA infrastructure and help the entire country get adequate and equitable services.

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