Supervisors Look to Hurry Western Broadband

County supervisors have voted to hurry plans to expand broadband into western Loudoun as rural residents struggle with virtual learning and teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical point, and an untenable impasse,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin), who led the initiative together with Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “And we are now at 100 percent distance learning in our schools, an COVID has highlighted that problem. And there are very few solutions, at least really wide, sweeping solutions, that we have been able to offer, and so this is really an attempt to kind of bolster that.”

Supervisors sent county staff members to work evaluating five options for expanding broadband internet in the west more quickly. Most of those are simply looking for ways to accelerate work the previous Board of Supervisors had already set into motion. They include fast-tracking applications to build some types of antennae; building off of work to connect school division facilities to expand fiber access for others; creating a single, ongoing map of telecommunications projects in the county; finding $4.8 million to finish connecting fiber to the Bluemont Community Center, Philomont Community Center, Philomont Fire and Rescue Sation, Loudoun Heights Fire and Rescue Station and Loudoun Height Public Safety Radio Tower; and generally brainstorming other ideas.

The projects are meant to prioritize service residential areas with underserved students.

Buffington pointed out it builds off of much of the work supervisors have already done—”the public doesn’t really know a lot of what we’ve done, and it’s really hard to get that message out to a lot of these folks because they don’t have internet access.”

Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) opposed the plan.

“I’m going to have difficulty putting more money into something like this,” Briskman said. “It’s a life choice. My parents live up in Maine, the internet is horrible and my kids complain about it every time were up there, but it was a life choice, and the internet’s just not going to be good, because that’s where they chose to live.”

But Randall said, “there are times when ‘we’re all in this together’ has to mean something.’”

“Whether or not it’s their choice is immaterial right now,” said Randall said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and if we do not figure out broadband, then we are going to have kids in western Loudoun County have an unequal education. And that is not okay.”

Supervisor voted 8-1, with Briskman opposed, on Sept. 15.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

6 thoughts on “Supervisors Look to Hurry Western Broadband

  • 2020-09-21 at 6:00 pm
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    ”the public doesn’t really know a lot of what we’ve done…” – explain that to residents who had no broadband 20 years ago and still do not have it.

    “I’m going to have difficulty putting more money into something like this,” Briskman said. “It’s a life choice” – a good example of the BOS all working together for the good of county residents?

    ” a life choice” – shame on those people who moved to Loudoun and expected it to have broadband, like other areas of the country. They are lucky to find that it had electricity, and not off the grid, like Briskman’s Maine.

  • 2020-09-21 at 6:50 pm
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    Gee Briskman? Life choice? If we did everything by what people “chose to do with their life” we’d have King George’s decendant on the Throne and a Union Jack on our flag. Government has a function, we pay you to conduct that function. Enlightened governments realize the internet is a big deal and necessary for students, business and property values. They do what their citizens pay them to do and assist where it makes sense.

    The next time people in eastern Loudoun bitch about traffic and want new roads or the need for this or that like ballfields or schools, I’ll echo your sentiments and say “nope, ya’ll made a life choice to live down there. Deal with it.” And the fact her parents live in Maine and their internet is bad is relevant to this issue in Loudoun why?

  • 2020-09-21 at 9:45 pm
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    Did Briskman take the time or make the effort to ask the school board whether it was a “life choice” for students to have to be online without high speed internet service? NO! In fact the parents (who should be considered the client of LCPS and provide input to ALL staff performance reviews) chose hybrid system which was then denied by the Superintendent without even a whimper from the school board. (The lack of leadership capability sure seems obvious in my opinion) 🙂

  • 2020-09-22 at 1:01 pm
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    I’m skeptical. Unless something is missing from this story there does not seem to be a plan to bring broadband to Western Loudoun residents’ homes. And homes being so few and far between, I don’t see service providers pulling fiber all the way to houses. It’s just too expensive for them to do so.

    If we are spending our money to bring broadband to a few select buildings, I’m not sure what the return on investment is going to be (how many people will actually go to these buildings to access the internet?).

    There are two technologies that seem they would fill the need better (actual in home broadband access) and would not cost the taxpayers a dime:
    – SpaceX’s Starlink which should be available fairly soon. The private beta test is in progress with confirmed speeds of 100 Mbps
    – 5G which will bring the performances needed, but requires a significant infrastructure investment (denser cell network).

  • 2020-09-22 at 1:42 pm
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    Don’t take it personally folks — Finger Lady hates any who don’t subscribe to her vile extreme socialist agenda. In her world, those who have space, enjoy nature, and are good stewards of their land without total government control are evil land owners who must pay a price for their private property.

    She’s excited to make our kids pay for her petulant attitude. In her mind, she ‘stuck it to them.’

  • 2020-09-23 at 9:47 am
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    It’s not clear from the article or the online BOS minutes exactly what is being done. Hopefully not another “look good” attempt by the BOS. Despite Randall’s statement, the BOS has not done much to bring broadband to residents (county buildings, yes – but not to residents). The BOS Communication Commission has done nothing over the years. Except to ask for status reports from Verizon and Comcast and take whatever comes back as the only options. It seems that the Commission was disbanded earlier this year, as no minutes appear on the county website.

    Some ideas that could be pursued:

    1. Although the low residence density fails to meet Verizon or Comcast return on investment hurdles, there are some higher density sections that have not been wired and which would yield a fair return for the carriers. The existing carrier contracts are too vague to offer any leverage to the county, and carriers have no incentive to offer more in future renewals.

    2. Microsoft has a new wireless technology in pilot – Airband. Given the Microsoft is asking for approval for a large Loudoun datacenter and office campus presence in Loudoun. It would not be unreasonable for the county to ask them for solutions, and to include Loudoun in their Airband pilot.

    3. AT&T continues to ask for developments at Short Hills. The county could ask for wireless cell and broadband solutions as part of this.

    4. Given the growth of datacenters, the county could raise the need for broadband solutions as part of the approval discussions. Owners have access to a lot of technology and new ideas. It can’t hurt to ask.

    5. The county could send an RFP from existing wireless providers and to Verizon & Comcast asking for potential solutions. What would it take? What would it cost? (Previous studies included only an “all or nothing” cost evaluation. Perhaps partial area solutions are available – like what’s planned for Lovettsville.)

    6. Build towers. Use county land where appropriate. Push back on the NIMBYs. Reduce cost, time, and paperwork hurdles.

    7. Starlink, from SpaceX, may be a solution and a game changer and make all of the above unnecessary. The next year will tell.

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