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