The wheels of progress move slowly. Too slowly in my opinion. An issue that everyone seemingly can get behind still doesn’t get enough of a bump in forward momentum to make a real dent. In this case I am referring to the rural broadband issue.
I’ve been actively involved at different levels of this issue for several years now. I even worked on a project that got stalled. The state does have a plan, but the bulk of the progress I have seen is more charts, slides, websites, and pretty pictures.
But where are the boots on the ground, where is the expansion that seemingly everyone knows needs to happen?
Back in August I attended a rural broadband presentation hosted by the Greater Piedmont REALTORS©. This was attended not only by realtors but also elected and local government officials from several of the surrounding counties. The main presenter was Evan Feinman who is the governors appointed lead for broadband expansion in Virginia.
None of the info was new to me. I’ve heard all of it several times before. But here are the highlights:
Estimated 600,000 Virginians without broadband.
Lack of infrastructure is currently due to economic, social, pollical and moral issues.
Governor wants an effective universal coverage rate by 2028.
Increased Connectivity would have economic impact estimated at:
2.24 billion increased annual sales
1.29 billion annual value added
9,415 additional jobs
$452.4 million increase in annual wages
Virginia could see an 18 percent increase in total productivity equivalent to 16.3 billion
The state is utilizing grant programs for public-private partnerships or private sector broadband providers to supplement construction costs for unserved populations. Unserved is defined as internet speeds of 10mpbs download /1mbps upload or less. FY2020 grant funds is set at $19 million and applications were due Sept 6, 2019.
Tortoise vs the Hare
I’ve been involved with this for 4 years now. It’s hard not to get discouraged at the slow pace. When you see estimates that say productivity increases in the billions, I can’t fathom how everyone isn’t jumping to set aside more public funds to expedite the expansion.
I understand the economics of an area where the population isn’t very dense, and the geography is tougher to transverse. Expansion by a single entity is costly. And this is where we the public private partnerships should come into play.
The grant process is extremely labor intensive. Culpeper’s own grant guru, Laura Loveday, will tell you she has to start working on grants months if not a year ahead of the due date. And then if you aren’t awarded, you must do it all over again in the next fiscal year. And a local government must contribute some level of funding to the project to show “skin in the game”.
What ISP’s have done
ISPs have been able to manipulate the politics that may have organically led to more growth. They have claimed areas within a county by census blocks all but ensuring another major ISP can’t touch the area. They are under no obligation to do anything with the blocks they have claimed. Until recentlyISPs could report that an entire census block was served even if only one home had broadband. And in even worse cases they could say an area was served if the ISP could offer service even if no one had it. Just the physical location of fiber optic cabling in the ground can be marked as proprietary trade secret. Making it tough to know where expansion could more easily take place.
The current 10mbps/1mbps speed, I hope, is just a talking point and that areas that are getting newly deployed broadband greatly exceed that basement level threshold. You aren’t going to be doing school work, streaming video, and playing a video game simultaneously on a connection that slow.
If we can dig for power at remote locations, we can figure this out!
What about 5G?
5G is not the answer. I don’t even have good Verizon cell coverage now going down route 3 or up the back roads to 610 in Stafford, not including many areas in Culpeper. The amount of technology needed to be deployed to make 5G run is something I’ve written about before. 5G requires significant technology deployment in very close proximity to each other.
I recently had a conversation about empathy with a buddy of mine, an understanding of others that have different life experiences, trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes for just a moment. Schools are giving chrome books to students which are almost useless without an internet connection. Parents wait for the library to open or sit in other public spaces so their kids can get thru homework. I don’t have to deal with this, but imagine for a moment that you did. How frustrating would that be?
Tele-medicine is probably the biggest thing coming. A huge new business sector for the health care industry. Elderly patients won’t have to leave their homes to speak with a doctor or people with
disabilities that find traveling difficult. This has created a scenario of the haves and have nots strictly based on your address.
If the rural broadband issue doesn’t get resolved, there will be more migration of people away from rural locations. With everything being connected online, internet utilization will only increase. RequiringMore Speed!
Just imagine how more connected everything will be in another 10-20 years. You probably won’t have much of a livelihood trying to live “off the grid”.
I have yet to know anyone personally that has obtained broadband thru any of these programs yet. My parents live just a couple miles from interstate 95 and don’t have anything.
Let your locally elected official know if you need broadband and this issue should be a priority. And then keep telling them!
If you are a locally elected official or government employee and want more information, Virginia’s comprehensive toolkit can be found at www.commonwealthconnect.virginia.gov.
• Step-by-step guide
• Model Solicitation
• Example Solicitations from Virginia localities
• FAQs, Potential Pitfalls, and Benefits of Broadband
• Vertical asset inventory worksheet
• “Dating service” to match ISPs and localities