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Rural Loudoun grapples with connectivity as world’s data flows through high-tech east

The stats are proudly mentioned far and wide by Loudoun County officials -- up to 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Loudoun County on a daily basis, with information and communications technology serving the largest industry cluster in Loudoun, employing more than 23,000 people.

Eastern Loudoun is more than qualified when it comes to having the right credentials for its unofficial title of “Silicon Dominion” or “Data Center Alley.”

Yet less than 20 miles away, the situation in western Loudoun is far from technologically sound. An estimated 30,000 people in the west are under-served or un-served when it comes to Internet access.

“It's amazing that we live so close to the center of our county's government seat and yet we have such poor Internet service,” Loudoun resident Erin Weaver said.

Weaver lives west of Lucketts and east of Lovettsville. She has Verizon for her cell phone but can't send or receive or receive texts in her house. She resorts to standing in her backyard if she wants to make calls.

“We just can't get high-speed Internet,” she said.  “We have Wildblue for our Internet. Due to the fact that our Internet comes from a satellite, when it rains heavily or snows heavily we can easily lose our service.”

Elsewhere in the west, some residents have resorted to putting up poles in their backyard to try to get a WiFi signal from the nearest tower. Is this the 21st  century equivalent to rabbit ears?

On the county's Board of Supervisors, Tony Buffington (Blue Ridge) and Supervisor Geary Higgins (Catoctin) are advocating for better connectivity in western Loudoun.

“We are making improvements but still have significant work ahead,” the two supervisors told the Times-Mirror in a joint statement.

Both say they have worked to raise awareness of broadband and cellular inadequacies throughout western Loudoun by strengthening the county's state legislative policy statement and advocating for legislative solutions in the General Assembly.

The supervisors have worked with Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R), a member of the the rural broadband caucus, in search of federal funding solutions that could help improve connectivity.

Loudoun County has conducted a wireless coverage gap analysis, and barriers to service – like fiber cost and complexity – have been identified for rural Loudoun. Return on investment is a major obstacle for service providers.

Practically, the greatest success to date seems to have risen from Buffington and Higgins trying to resolve problems on a case by case basis.

“Residents can call our offices with their locations and we put them in touch with our county staff and service providers to see about getting them access. Each situation is unique so there is no guarantee for connection but we have had success on this front for a number of our residents,” Buffington and Higgins said.

While the western supervisors have seen some success, large gaps  still remain. “The biggest challenge to expanding broadband coverage in western Loudoun is getting service providers to provide coverage in less dense areas,” Buffington and Higgins said.

Not all providers are shirking away from western Loudoun, however. Its problems are providing opportunities for a growing number of smaller wireless providers like All Points Broadband. The Leesburg-based company's mission statement reads: “We deliver a reliable last mile solution. Our mission is to bring broadband access to communities where current options are too slow, too expensive or don’t exist.”

But for residents like Courtney Shipe, who lives just south of Lovettsville off Rodeffer Road, the path to connectivity, which large swathes of the population take for granted, is far from smooth. To date the only provider she has found willing to provide service is Verizon.

“We have Verizon DSL 'high speed' internet,” Shipe said. “Almost daily our phone line and internet service will randomly cut off for hours at a time. We've have multiple repair technicians come out only to tell us the problem isn't on our end. It is quite frustrating and affects our working at home."

Shipe continued, “I have heard from the neighbors that Comcast comes to either end of my road – where it is paved – but it's not worth the money for them to connect through to the rest of us.”


What Donatello said ++

I have spent a fortune on overage charges on a mobile hotspot so that my children can complete homework and google classroom work assigned by their teachers.  LCPS should understand that we don’t have access.  I agree here tax data centers and use those funds to provide all of Loudoun County with decent internet coverage & speeds. 

I also believe that the short hill situation is unacceptable!

The idea that western Loudoun is too rural to have broadband access is a fallacy.  Many areas of the country, and areas of Virginia,  have much lower population density, yet have broadband.

The real reason is that several years ago the board of supervisors blindly signed contracts written by Verizon and Comcast that gave away the rights to provide internet access.  The contracts pretty much allow the carriers to cherry pick only the most highly profitable areas to serve.  The contracts do provide that areas with greater than 15 homes per mile must be served.  However, the carriers are ignoring this clause and using absurd measurements to justify lack of service.  Unfortunately, the BOS does not contest this lack of service, and had made little effort to measure home density or even pressure the carriers to honor the contracts.  Drive down a populated road in an unserved area and count the homes per mile.  You’ll likely see far more that 15 homer per mile, yet the carriers still deny service and the BOS does nothing.

Why is this?  Supervisors from eastern Loudoun simply don’t care.  They have no reason to, as their districts are high density and already have service.  The two western Loudoun supervisors have given up trying for action.  Likely there are campaign contributions to BOS candidates, as well.

There is a county ‘communications commission’, but reading their minutes on the county website, they seem to not attempt or achieve much, if anything.

Ideas to fix the problem:

1. The BOS should do their own home density measurements and get legal advice on forcing carriers to comply with the contracts.  Without measurements and metrics, progress is impossible.

2. Explore community broadband.  The county may be able to ease restrictions and allow community-owned broadband to get started, with no tax or budget impact.  (Verizon and Comcast will lobby hard, here and in Richmond, to prevent community broadband!  Maybe they will expand service?)

3. Get some of the federal broadband funding for Loudoun.  Use it to start community broadband or subsidize wireless providers (WISPs) to expand service areas and provide broadband speeds and lower pricing.  (Today, low speed wireless is available in some areas, for high prices.  Nowhere close to ‘broadband’ speeds)

Imagine what the US would be like, is the government took the same position on electricity and telephones as the do today with internet.

Fred - since when is western Loudoun “boondocks”?  I guess you don’t get out of your townhouse much…

So they forward your email to a staff member and he forwards it to a cable company and they say ” No can do” End of discussion. Just as reminder Buffington also publically said ” AT&T wants nothing to do with Loudoun” How is that Short Hill
AT&T facility shaping up for you ?  Western Loudoun is lucky if the power stays on during a mini storm! Not complaint, just stating facts

When you move to the boondocks, don’t expect somebody to spend a couple million dollars digging up the ground to lay fiber to your doorstep so that you and a handful of neighbors can get broadband for $50/month.

If you want broadband, purchase a 4G LTE Wireless router. Then sign on to development plans for the rural west, so that a bunch of left wing liberals with money start moving in and demand their internet.  That is when those in the west will get their broadband.

BOS has talked a lot about broadband for 10+ years, but has done nothing.  Eastern Loudoun supervisors take the attitude of “We’ve got our broadband, so we could care less about the west”. The two western supervisors can’t get anything passed to help.

Allpoints is listed as an option, although they do not supply true ‘broadband’ (defined as 25 Mbs), instead supplying 8Mbs for $100/month. Four times the average monthly cost for 20% of the US average the speed.  Sadly, they are the only option, besides satellite, which is little better than dial-up.  Parents drive their kids to McDonalds or coffee shows to complete homework assignments. Prospective home buyers should think about that! Most third world countries have better internet than western Loudoun.  And we tout ourselves as the center of the internet…

An option is to lean on Verizon and Comcast to live up to the contracts that they signed and provide service to areas with 15 homes per mile of road.  They currently ignore that contractual responsibility while the BOS does nothing.

Another option is to put a tax on all of these new data-centers and use that to wire up Loudoun. The data-centers come here for easy access to the Ashburn internet hub, and low priced power from Dominion, while adding very few jobs.  Instead of giving them tax breaks, we should be using tax revenue to build out internet infrastructure.

Rural area lacks high speed internet…Film at 11.

Next story: The severe livestock shortage in Tysons.

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