Supervisors Eyes $16M Rural Broadband Initiative

Members of the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee are backing a plan that would bring broadband internet closer—but not all the way—to rural western Loudoun.

A county consultant, Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, studied the state of broadband in rural Loudoun and what it would take to catch the county’s western homes up to the east. The survey found that about 96 percent of western Loudoun homes have some sort of internet connection—ironically putting them in a difficult spot.

“The downside is that half of the respondents have low to moderate satisfaction with the service, speed and reliability,” said Columbia Telecommunications Corporation CEO Andrew Afflerbach. “In other words, you have what you suspected, which is a real division between the eastern and western part of the county.”

And while he described the eastern part of Loudoun as “the core of the internet, and the most highly-connected part of the United States,” only a few minutes’ drive away, the homes are too few and far between to make it profitable for internet service providers to run new fiber optic cable. The consultant estimated it would cost as much as $9,000 per home to run fiber to individual properties—for a total of around $130 million.

And while there are federal grants available, they may not be available for western Loudoun. Those grants are only for areas considered “unserved,” with download speeds of no more than 10 megabits per second and uploads at 1 Mbps. That is around a third of the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum definition for broadband, 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. But Loudoun is considered ineligible for those federal grants.

Instead, the finance committee recommended partnering with a private-sector company to lay down 140 miles of fiber optic cable to connect 60 county facilities throughout western Loudoun, at an estimated cost of $16.1 million. Afflerbach said that would provide a “backbone network” for private internet service, bringing fiber within a few miles of most homes. From there, internet service providers may choose to connect from that fiber to residential areas.

That project, he said, could be paid off in around 10 years. The county would also look into piggybacking off a school system project to connect its facilities throughout the county.

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said it would be a cost-effective solution, especially compared with the option of owning and operating a $130 million system.

“We would never get support for that, and even if the board voted to do that, it would be a long, long time into the future before we identified $130 million in our [Capital Improvement Program] to do this,” Buffington said.

The committee recommended the full Board of Supervisors send that conversation to their next budget deliberations. That could have funding for the project begin as soon as Fiscal Year 2021, which begins July 2020.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

10 thoughts on “Supervisors Eyes $16M Rural Broadband Initiative

  • 2019-07-18 at 10:35 am
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    Do not use taxpayer dollars to run cable to western Loudoun!

  • 2019-07-18 at 10:43 am
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    It’s the “last mile” that matters to western Loudoun residents without broadband. Currently both Comcast and Verizon have service within a mile of our neighborhood, but refuse to extend service. The final wiring to homes is what prevents ISPs from providing service. Fiber to municipal buildings may help those buildings, but not the unserved residents. The cost per household of running fiber or cable is what prevents ISPs from service western Loudoun. I don’t see this proposal fixing that….

    Municipal wireless broadband is that answer. BOS won’t consider that as current monopoly ISPs lobby against it. Current wireless providers make their livings by selling expensive, low speed service.

  • 2019-07-18 at 2:43 pm
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    Fiber, broadband, satellite, wireless, infrastructure and the ominous $9,000 per home figure. All of this seems to miss the the essence of technology and competitive business as it actually exists. We live in the very rural Lucketts area. Even though I offered to pay for installation Verizon’s refused to extend service less than one mile beyond where they already provide service. When it is not competitively viable for the largest providers to offer service it is a fools errand for county government to step in and finance what isn’t competitive. That is TAX WASTEFUL! Now what would be smart and I would consider doing this in January if elected as Chair of the Board of Supervisors is use government the way it is intended to be used. Negotiate with all the utility providers in Loudoun to fully cooperate with all providers of high speed internet (preferably above 30 MBPS so both data and video can be provided without buffering.) In this way high speed internet could become less expensive and more available to all the rural areas of Loudoun without digging up roads, yards and farms to provide money to some favored vendor of the current Board of Supervisors. $16 Million . – NOT!

  • 2019-07-18 at 5:28 pm
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    If only the richest county in America knew of an industry that wants to develop here and provides a large steady source of tax revenue to pay for all this and more in a heartbeat…

    Oh wait. We do. But we don’t want it because think of the children/it’s evil/it’s ugly/we don’t need any more tax revenue/it will never last/insert other random “reason”.

  • 2019-07-18 at 5:39 pm
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    Let us be 100% clear here. In the 21st Century real broadband is essential. It effects home values! Especially if your property has no real access. Now please get this….a Verizon contractor laid fiber in front of my house on a gravel road in the west. I have the door hanger to prove it and I saw the men working. This was 3 years ago! Nothing available as of yet available. They laid cable and did nothing. How is that not insane? The County has been useless. Why lay infrastructure and not use it? This explains a lot to me about the state not just of our county but the country today.

    FIOS and Comcast ignore us as the County literally gave our homes away in their franchise agreements. They could care less about the west so long as we pay our taxes….all those taxes.

    Face it….want broadband in the west? You are alone and on your own. Not unlike electrification a century or more ago. We need a rural coop for broadband, private business and government are worse then useless. Good luck!

  • 2019-07-18 at 7:56 pm
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    “… it would be a long, long time into the future before we identified $130 million in our [Capital Improvement Program] to do this,” Buffington said.”

    If the BOS would reconsider their short-sighted election year stratagem of decrying data centers (aka. tax revenue printing machines) along the Sycolin Rd. corridor, they’d have plenty of money to fund total broadband within two years, all while reducing the tax burden on Loudoun homeowners.

    • 2019-07-19 at 12:34 pm
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      What stratagem of decrying data centers along Sycolin Rd? They approved True North over intense objections from the community and on the 19th approved a huge data center complex along Sycolin Rd.

      • 2019-07-19 at 2:45 pm
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        The 19th approval was already zoned for data centers (that took guts, eh?) True North was opposed by a vocal minority of wealthy political activists upon whom, it would have zero impact.
        I have to see True North every single day. I welcome it vs. the housing development that was slated for the site.

        Data Centers don’t produce traffic on our overburdened roads, kids to fill our schools, or residential development pollutants. Rather, they print tax revenue, which in turn reduces the burden on Loudoun homeowners by thousands of dollars a year.

        Sycolin Road should be a contained and concentrated data center alley between Ashburn and the ‘Burg. The benefits to ALL county residents would be tremendous — Starting with full broadband for the west, paid for. Fully funding the Industrial Education Complex known as LCPS. Further reducing the tax rate on Loudoun Homeowners, fixing our crumbling roads, cutting down on disgusting residential sprawl, and even to start paying down the incredible debt load the county carries.

        But no… “it’s an election year. We want to appear like we actually care about ‘preservation of, of ,of ..something, so all of our rich supporters will keep inviting us to their parties to meet all of their wealthy friends. Data centers, evil! Tens of thousands of houses, good! Repeat.”

        Instead of making a superior and common sense decision to ensure steady funding for all of the things citizens need, they create an imaginary line on a map, and say “data centers on this side of the road -good, Data centers on that side of the road,– bad. Here was a chance to do something really smart and beneficial for everyone. Instead, they wanted to appease a few wealthy activists, and the rest of us get screwed. That, was their “stratagem.”

  • 2019-07-19 at 12:33 am
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    Residential Wired broadband for Western Loudoun County likely will never happen. There is no US company that will ever make that investment. The hardest part for most of us around short hill on both sides Neersville and Lovettsville is that we will likely never get much in the way of choice. When a company (ATT) steps up and talks about new antennas, the residents go crazy and sue away the providers.

    ATT ran fiber all through the western Loudoun down Route 9 and all the way down Harpers Ferry Road to WV. They were finishing several strands down Harpers Ferry road three years ago when we moved here.

    The issue will persist through many more election cycles. I am wondering how we are supposed to go to all electric cars when we cant get good cell or broadband technology. How can farmers upgrade to automated equipment with the ability for their dial home over the internet. How can rural doctors expand and provide imaging and advanced medicine without a viable connection?

    The study mentioned completely misses the point for all of us in a rural area. The report simply parrot the specs that All Points BB( or others) put on their website, with absolutely no data about how true those speeds really are. Satellite providers are far worse and cap data. The best All Points BB can provide in my area can barely do is 3/1(500KB) and during peak times its dial up speed.

    But I would say the items that tip the scales for me in to the truly absurd are pricing parity for services. The prices are so far out of whack from east to west Loudoun that our BOS should look at what we pay vs Eastern loudoun. Maybe they can cut our western loudoun taxes to offset the lack of services provided to us.

    Here is what you get in the east:

    Fios Gigabit Connection with Fios TV Test Drive & Phone
    $ 79.99 /mo
    Up to 940/880 Mbps.

    In the West:

    All Points BB
    Download up to 25 Mbps
    Upload up to 3 Mbps
    Unlimited Data
    $299 Per Month*

  • 2019-07-21 at 9:15 pm
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    The one thing the county could do is revise their franchise agreement and require all carriers to connect homes within say a 1/4 mile. Currently there are many fiber optic lines in western londoun and the providers will not hook up residences even when those lines are on the residents property. There are lines on Rt9, Rt15, Rt7 but no residential connections. Funny how that is.

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