Eusebio Cantone in Living Room | Internet

Loudoun County resident Eusebio Cantone started the Facebook group True Broadband For Western Loudoun as a forum for residents to voice concerns over reliable and affordable broadband in the area. 

After tearing his rotator cuff and being restricted from driving for three months, northwestern Loudoun County Eusebio Cantone was granted permission to work from home.

Everything was in place for Cantone to set up his home office, except for one key piece – reliable Internet.

As a result, he was forced to ask for rides and take the train to work—two hours each day.

“If I had a reliable Internet connection, I would’ve been able to stay home and recover for two to three months while I wasn’t able to drive. Instead it cost me a lot of money in travel and time to get back and forth to my office,” Cantone said.

Like the nearly 200 followers on his True Broadband for Western Loudoun Facebook page, Cantone is pushing the county for change. 

While eastern Loudoun has seen tech success after tech success over the years -- from the Internet boom in the 1990s to the Ashburn-Dulles area now known as one of the most significant data center markets in the world -- western Loudoun residents have struggled with insufficient Internet access for nearly two decades.

With the goal to provide broadband internet services “to unserved and underserved areas of western Loudoun County” -- as stated in the Board of Supervisors' adopted Broadband Strategic Plan -- the board in July directed staff to work through the fiscal 2021 budget process to identify funding needs for the deployment of such a network.

The board further directed staff to work through the county procurement process to identify options through either a cooperative agreement or Request for Proposal for the deployment of a middle mile fiber network to key county facilities, using a private third-party entity that would own and operate the network as recommended by Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, or CTC.

A lot of private companies are providing broadband service to the western part of the county, Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) said in an interview the Times-Mirror, but many residents are unsatisfied due to unreliable or slow service.

Eusebio Cantone | Internet

Loudoun County resident Eusebio Cantone started the Facebook group True Broadband For Western Loudoun.

Letourneau believes the idea of building a fiber network has brought on a lot of excitement.

“From the customer’s standpoint and the provider’s standpoint, I think there’s interest in this as a way—with the county backing the effort—to provide a greater level of financial certainty for a private sector entity to enter into this type of agreement and provide better service,” Letourneau said.

Last month, CTC presented the county with its study that identified the costs for connecting county facilities with a Private Wide-Area-Network, or PWAN. The study’s intent was to help reduce costs for Internet access and to identify costs, alternatives and funding options to the underserved or unserved areas of rural western Loudoun County, specifically those living in the Blue Ridge and Catoctin Districts.

Letourneau, who serves as the Board of Supervisors finance committee chairman, said the proposed project would be a $16 million investment over the next 10 years. He expects it to be considered in future budget discussions, with the county also considering applying for Internet Service Provider federal, and state, grant applications.

Another option – though not recommended – was to construct a fiber-to-the-premises, or FTTP, network similar to one in the eastern part of Loudoun. That would cost about $130 million.

Having adequate broadband is essential for businesses, Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance said. Hillsboro is a little more than 10 miles from the county government offices in Leesburg, though its rural setting can make it feel much farther.

“For businesses marketing, handling registrations, taking orders, etc. … the ability for any business to have that reliable service is critical, and that’s part of economic development,” Vance said.

In addition to working with providers, Vance said Hillsboro Town Council has is preparing for the future by including the construction of an electrical conduit in its Route 9 Traffic Calming Project. This helps plan for Internet wiring down the road.

Roger Vance

Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance

“We are trying to think ahead. How do we put ourselves in position to take advantage of the newest technology?” Vance said.

Results from Columbia’s findings indicate that residents in the overall survey area are indeed connected, with 96 percent of households having some form of Internet connection. Eighty-five percent of residents have home Internet service, 84 percent have a cellular or mobile telephone with Internet and 72 percent have both.

However, despite the generally high level of usage in western Loudoun, the survey showed half of Internet subscribers in western Loudoun have only low to moderate satisfaction with the speed and reliability of their services. County officials say these results match anecdotal reports they receive about poor Internet service.

The Internet study's results and recommendations come at a unique time, according to Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony Buffington (R), who represents a vast swath of western Loudoun.

“This is a big deal because for the first time our rural Broadband expansion effort has garnered support of the board as a whole, whereas in the past it’s merely been an effort by one or two members," Buffington said. “This is what I’ve been pushing for since taking office … with the right leadership we can keep the ball rolling and make a real impact.”

The proposed project would be a first for Loudoun, according to county officials, who describe the county’s role as “an anchor tenant” to lease the fiber.

Out of 60 county facilities, 53 are in western Loudoun. These include community centers, libraries, and public safety and recreational facilities.

Western Loudoun resident Joe Domino, whose day job involves computers, said he likes the county's idea, but he wonders whether private providers will up for participating.

“I do like the idea, sure," Domino said. “If they put the fiber into the schools and everywhere else and have a connection point that’s great—if developers will then take advantage of it.”

Supervisors are optimistic about providers partaking. For major providers like Verizon and AT&T, it's expensive to extend broadband services to rural areas, and the county's early plans would cut those costs.

"We don’t know for sure they want to participate in it, but it will create another option that they can," said Catoctin Supervisor Geary Higgins (R), whose district covers majors chunks or rural Loudoun.

Buffington added, “Providers will benefit from the long-term security of having Loudoun as an anchor tenant who’s helping fund their expansion into much of rural Loudoun, which, in turn, greatly reduces their per-home cost of providing last mile connections to rural residents needing new or improved service.”

A key caveat in the CTC survey is that 78 percent of Blue Ridge and Catoctin residents didn't respond.

Speaking to the low response rate, Eusebio Cantone said, “Honestly, at this point people are so frustrated and sick of the surveys that are coming out every few years, [they] have kind of given up.”

“It’s good to see they are trying to do something—we’re just frustrated,” Cantone said. “But we understand the challenges just because western Loudoun is so diverse in the topography, and at this point it's nice to see they are trying to do something. I just don’t know if it’s a solution to help everybody.”

(30) comments

Loudounest

West of Leesburg might be perfect for 5G but that technology and the carrier planning is years away. As franchised carriers, which limits competition, why can't the BOS get them to extend their broadband via WIfI to the surrounding areas where placing fiber isn't cost effective for them? It seems this would open the door for most residences starving for cost effective access. Smaller non franchised companies like All Points Broadband have greatly increased their footprint in Loudoun & Clarke counties the past few years. Where are the big guys? Sure there are places in Western Loudoun that are lucky to have electricity yet alone cellphone and fiber broadband but that should not stop addressing the current lack of broadband to everyone else? The BOS doing nothing strategy hasn't worked! It is long overdue the BOS should implement a creative solution and provide "all" of the taxpayers of the center of the world internet with access. The election cycle isn't that far away.


amerigirl

Loudoun is Loudoun, east or west, it should all be treated equally. I'll bet you that most of the taxes collected in Loudoun come from western Loudoun and most of the taxes spent are on eastern Loudoun.


AnnieBrook

I requested a price from Comcast even though they said I was a mile from last connection



$128,000 was estimate. School issues digital assignments that need to be done on iPhones. Verizon and ATT hotspot don’t work next to short hill mtn. Broad band had no site line and satellite was so slow I could drive to Purcellville and print docs before download complete.



Many of us did not buy in Western Loudoun we are native Loudoun and deserve the same benefits from our tax dollars that east Loudoun has.



I have completed the surveys, contacted BOS for 10 years, county commission office for 8 years.



You want less traffic on the roads let the western Loudouners work from home and allow our students to excel with great internet.


Bud

JKE says "Put it on the ballot and lets vote Catoctin and Blue Ridge into a special tax district and let them pay for their own Internet service. Must be election time to pander"







Works for me - if those new tax districts can exclude taxes for schools, police, and other service needs generated by the eastern Loudoun development wave.


margegeneverra

After years of studies, surveys, town forums, this is another “feel good” move by the BOS, which will do nothing for residents without reliable, affordable, broadband. For years, I’ve been without broadband and followed the lack of progress. The county has a communication commission that has done nothing to address the problem or even understand the scope of it.







The problem is not with fiber network backbones. The county is well covered by them. The problem is in the “last mile” - the actual connection to homes. This proposal will do nothing to address that or provide broadband to homeowners. Both Verizon and Comcast have fiber within a half mile of our neighborhood, but decline to wire us due to a low return on investment. This proposal will not change that.







The option to wire every home in western Loudoun was dismissed as too costly. That is because partial wiring solutions were not presented. Likely 80 percent of the unserved homes could be wired for less than half of the presented cost of wiring every home. Why was the partial or incremental option not explored? Fiber to county facilities (many of which already have broadband) is great for them, but does nothing to help residents. Private ISPs won’t wire the last mile today, and they won’t in the future.







It’s time that the county get serious about solving the problem. Have they approached Verizon, Comcast, and other large ISPs to get proposals and costs for additional wiring? Have they asked some of these firms building datacenters for help or ideas? (People in 3rd world countries can access the Loudoun datacenters, but residents 10 miles away cannot...)







Microsoft, Google, AT&T, & other large technology firms have technology in pilot that uses wireless to cover the last mile and is not affected by trees or terrain that prevents traditional wireless providers from coverage of western Loudoun. These companies even have pilot areas in Virginia. Why not Loudoun – because the county never approached them!







Lack of broadband in the 21st century is like lack of electricity in the 20th century. Time to get serious and make a real effort to find solutions!


LoudounPulse

How about this idea, create a Western Loudoun tax district and float a bond, so all those folks who moved into the sticks can pay for their own fiber-to-the-farm. This whole issue is akin to somebody moving to a house on well/septic and crying because there isn't any public water/sewer to their home.







Laying millions of dollars of fiber to reach 3 homes and a cow isn't profitable for anybody.


ace10

Why am I paying for your water and sewer projects? I receive no benefit from them. Good grief, your logic... it's broken.


LoudounPulse

When you choose to move to a rural area and are surprised there is lackluster internet service, you only have yourself to blame. If you need better internet service, move east.


Razer

I'm new to Loudoun having moved from Fairfax County. I have read over the last year how rural Loudoun doesn't want to lose their identity and they want to limit the amount of development. This is basic infrastructure and it is very expensive to put in. Developers and new home buyers have paid the way. Eastern Loudoun has great infrastructure but at the cost of congestion. I used to live in the country and satellite internet is horrible compared to the FIOS I have now.


Bud

Proposal to wire county buildings will do nothing to help residents without broadband. And it will take 10 years???







The problem is the last mile. Unless the county provides money, ISPs will not wire homes is lower density areas. Wireless will not work for most due to terrain.







When will the county fund wiring, or get or aggressive on securing "white space" wireless?







The county has no leverage on Verizon or Comcast contracts.


Mike Flagg

A few years back, Verizon was ready, willing and able to install their fiber optic FIOS in Purcellville. Comcast, already a presence in the town, colluded with the Town Council at the time and made sure that was not gonna happen. On the west side of 32nd street, Verizon Fios has been available for years. Inside the town, one option-Comcast.



I'd like to see the BOS investigate what went down between the Purcellville Town Council and Comcast to shut out their competition to the residents of Purcellville.



It stinks to high heaven and needs to be brought out into the light.


WesternSky

What went down is the Verizon Wireless team took over the Company leadership from the Wireline guys and then effectively stopped all investment in fiber plant. Sold off Fios in CA, TX, FL and everywhere else outside of the legacy VZ footprint. Hard to compete with the fat wireless margins...


ace10

Verizon has laid fiber in front of my home, a route which passes by dozens of other taxpayers' properties as well. Yet they won't even acknowledge that it is there, much less provide service to us. Supv Higgins, or Mr Worthless as I like to call him, claims that there is nothing that can be done about it. Yet Verizon continues to be granted approval on projects in the County. I suspect that our County's elected officials and professional staff don't understand how to negotiate.


WellIsntThatSpecial

If they get free internet, then I want free internet in Ashburn, too. I mean, we all want absolute fairness, right?


Socr8s

Where does it mention free internet genius?


amerigirl

No reason to be like that. [wink]


WesternSky

Perhaps this is the solution. Another option would be to mandate as part of the next Cable Franchise agreement negotiations that Comcast must reduct its density requirement from 20 homes per mile to 3 per mile – or sell the network plant to another cable operator.


AnnieBrook

Agree!


amerigirl

Good thought!


BobOhneiserEsq

Internet speed, cost and consistency are the issues. If it was profitable to do so Verizon would have already built fiber to every house that wanted FIOS. As a recently retired lawyer who used to practice telecommunications law a long time ago I know that any utility that has been given an easement must allow other utilities reasonable access to that easement. Does anyone else notice this "concept" for broadband does not promise a reasonable cost per month to the end user? The more capital deployed the higher that cost should be expected to be. As Chair of the BOS I would bring ALL the utility companies into a common meeting with telecom providers and have a work session to identify all the sites that wireless internet carriers could utilize for immediate provisioning of at least 30 megs download so TV and internet could be provided at reasonable rates (without buffering). If you can see a water tower, power line tower, government building or electric pole you can have high speed internet! Broadband (high speed internet) is not something that has to be paid for by government but negotiating on behalf of the resident is well overdue. Maybe if we spent less time on photo ops, insuring developer profits and trying to remove 100 year old statues we could get to solving appropriate issues for residents and not wasting taxpayer money!




Loudounest

Posting from the coffee shop in P'ville, Free Wifi since I don't have any at home 7 miles away. Thank you Supervisors for bringing the coffee shop although I feel like a homeless vagrant or better expressed "The Net-Less".


More Cowbell

Blame the past and current BOS. over development. Perhaps the BOS should have required developers to install fiber optics prior to building anywhere west or north. Of course as part of moving into a development, one would think that would be a requirement, so the homeowners are partly to blame too.


amerigirl

I thought that the providers had to work with the BOS to get their product down and that the county only used a limited amount of providers. I could be very wrong or that might be outdated.


jke

Put it on the ballot and lets vote Catoctin and Blue Ridge into a special tax district and let them pay for their own Internet service. Must be election time to pander.


LoudounClear

Works for me. I'm sure whatever tax the county came up with to pay for better internet it wouldn't come close the $100+ per month I pay now for very slow internet-only service (that is, no cable TV, phone or anything else for that $100).


amerigirl

But would you expect western loudoun to be able to opt out of the taxes for something only eastern loudoun needed? It's the job of the board to take care of all Loudoun.


ace10

That's a tremendous idea. I look forward to receiving a massive tax abatement so that I can recover my money spent on your water and sewer projects.


WellIsntThatSpecial

water / sewer are a necessity. Broadband internet is entertainment. Big difference


ace10

LOL. I have water and sewer at no cost to you. Yet, for some reason I have to pay for yours. And if you think high speed internet is "entertainment," then you must be living in 1995, or thereabouts. I suppose you don't work, or go to school or have a home security system. Jeesh. You must be one of those GimmeDats who always want to spend other peoples' money.


amerigirl

This is a first, Ace and I agree! Wellisn't, It is not entertainment if you have online classes, run your own business or do any type of work, or government filings that needs a computer. It is used for homework on a regular basis. It is a necessity of modern times. This is Loudoun not the back sticks.


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