County Communications Commission Chairman Tim Dennis says Loudoun is finally ready to make a dent in its broadband gap.
Presenting his commission’s annual report to county supervisors July 18, Dennis noted that one of the commission’s major jobs has been the Broadband Strategic Plan, which it created and supervisors adopted in 2018.
“When we began working on this, what became very clear is that there are not a lot of tools or levers in the toolbox for local government to actually create and address the broadband issue,” Dennis said.
But supervisors have taken steps to increase the reach high-speed internet access from the heart of Data Center Ally in Ashburn to the county’s poorly-served western reaches. At the same meeting, they launched study on a project to run fiber optic cable to government-owned facilities in the west, a western Loudoun loop of cable that would be privately owned and managed and possibly cut the distance internet providers would have to go to connect other places.
As they wrote the new comprehensive plan, supervisors also sought to relax some of the restrictions on building new communications towers, which many western Loudouners rely on for wireless internet service.
Dennis said with those efforts, “we’re at a unique time and place to reset the broadband issue in Loudoun County.”
“This county now has levers that they can pull to materially impact closing the broadband gap,” Dennis said.
Dennis said the cost of burying fiber optic cable is the major obstacle.
He also highlighted trends signaling the end of an era in television. As cable and satellite television revenues continue to shrink, he said DirecTV, now owned by AT&T, has launched its last satellite. The service will end when its existing satellites fail or are turned off. The companies are instead focusing on sending their shows over wired and wireless services—further reducing the options for rural areas that have limited access to those services. The decline could also impact 911 funding, which is funded in part through cable franchise fees.
There have been no new communications towers built in Loudoun in the past five years, he said. Two have been zoned but not yet built.
Those shortfalls, he said, threaten not only a family’s ability to binge Netflix, but also the rural economy, the ability for some students to do their homework, and even can impact traffic as teleworking is not an option for some people and they are forced to get on the road to go to the office.
“I think the pendulum is finally swinging in the right direction here on broadband in western Loudoun County and our rural parts,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).