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Fauquier, VA to 'restructure' approach to broadband

Fauquier County supervisors plan to “restructure” their approach to expanding broadband service after receiving just one proposal to install a dark fiber network.

They also have concern the Virginia General Assembly will enact legislation that complicates local government efforts to expand broadband.

“There would be no guarantee of better access to broadband or wireless” under House Bill 1258, says Cedar Run Supervisor Rick Gerhardt. He said it would “limit a municipality’s ability to tackle broadband for unserved and underserved areas. Ultimately, this harms those who are unserved and underserved.”

Expansion of broadband tops the list of the county’s capital improvement projects. Better internet and cell service would help businesses to operate, schoolchildren to do homework and serve a public that's become increasingly dependent on the service.

House Bill 1258 was introduced by Del. Terry G. Kilgore, R-1st.

The Virginia Municipal League opposes the House bill and companion legislation in the Senate, SB 405, introduced by Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, R-4th. The league says the bill eliminates most local control over the installation and operation of new wireless structures by classifying most new wireless structure projects as “administrative review-eligible projects.” The league says the decision-making process would shift toward for-profit companies “who care about their bottom line, not about citizens’ welfare and costs.”

The House bill moved from the Commerce and Labor Committee on Feb. 1 by a 17 to 2 vote. Delegate Michael Webert, R-18, who represents Fauquier County, casting one of the two “no” votes. The bill was heard in the full House on Monday.

While legislators in Richmond wrestle with that issue, the Fauquier Board of Supervisors on Thursday will vote to withdraw its previous acceptance of an unsolicited Public-Private Education Act proposal from Freedom Telecom Services of Maryland to install a fiber backbone network for broadband expansion.

The unsolicited proposal required the county to advertise for competing proposal. No other company submitted one. That, plus changes in management at FTS and the prospect the state could inhibit public-private partnerships and revenue sharing has prompted Fauquier to restructure its approach.

The supervisors this Thursday will vote to cancel its acceptance of FTS' unsolicited proposal and prepare a revised approach for vendor consideration and response.

In a bid to make progress along other fronts, the board will vote to allocate $24,000 from its broadband capital improvements account for Omnipoint to place broadband equipment on a new transmission tower in Casanova.

The funding will also establish a three-year rent-free lease agreement with the county for the Ensor’s Shop tower in exchange for three years of broadband service.

Grants like the one to Omnipoint and an earlier $50,000 one made to Waterford Telephone Company for a broadband project in Upperville provide an incentive to companies to provide “last-mile” service, Gerhardt said.

The Upperville project differs from what Omnipoint proposes in that it relies on using the copper phone line of customers and is basically “an expanded DSL service that’s limited in speed,” Gerhardt said.

Omnipoint uses a single piece of equipment and is easier to deploy. It also provides for the transmission of entertainment programming.

The county is also working with another company, Calvert Crossland, to deploy cell service on new towers.

“The county will do whatever it can to incentivize the process,” Gerhardt said.

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