The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a measure that addresses a lack of reliable high speed internet, primarily in western Loudoun.
As part of the county’s Emergency Broadband Implementation Plan, the county administrator was directed to apply for a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant in partnership with All Points Broadband for the extension of broadband into unserved portions of the County, as identified by staff.
The board allocated $12.425 million in federal funding from the American Recovery Plan Act as the county’s grant match.
“The way it’s written, if everything comes to fruition and we’re awarded the VATI grant, it will ultimately not cost the Loudoun taxpayers a single dime, and is a huge initiative going forward,” said Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin).
“So, I’m pretty pumped about it,” he said. “I’m really appreciative my colleagues have worked with me on this.”
Last September, the county announced its plans to expedite efforts to bring broadband to underserved and unserved areas.
As part of the board’s recent plan to hasten the deployment of broadband to underserved and unserved areas, county staff has provided quarterly updates to the board with recommendations to prioritize and accelerate the expansion of broadband services to residential areas.
Twenty-one percent of county students live in rural areas of Loudoun County, according to county staff. County leaders said such students faced challenges in staying online to learn and complete their schoolwork, using wifi hotspot devices and traveling outside the home for internet service.
Shortly before the vote, remarks by several callers into the meeting were unrecognizable due to connection issues.
Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pointed to poor internet connections as another reason to support addressing high speed internet.
“As you heard tonight with public speaking virtually, a couple of my friends from western Loudoun County had a hard time communicating with us, had to disconnect and reconnect and we still had some difficulties hearing them,” Buffington said. “And those are some of the lucky ones that can actually connect at all.”
Ajit Pai, former chairman and commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and applauded the board’s decision. He said the top priority of the commission during his tenure was to bridge the digital divide.
“One of the reasons why I believe this is because broadband is increasingly important in Americans’ daily lives,” Pai said.
“You know this better than anybody for telework, telehealth, remote learning, precision agriculture, and so much more,” he said. “Broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity and the pandemic has only underscored that.”
With residents and business owners seeking answers to obtaining high speed internet, Loudouners joined together — including those in the Loudoun Broadband Alliance (LBA) — to address their concerns. LBA grew out of the increased need for broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Noll, co-founder of the Loudoun Broadband Alliance, along with Eusebio Cantone, joined others in thanking the board for their support.
“You have answered for Loudon County what was the previous generation’s electrification project,” Noll said.
“This is our generation’s rural electrification and you’ve solved that problem for us,” he said. “So, thank you very much and we look forward to seeing this project come to completion.”
The Department of Housing and Community Development, which will review the application, will notify all parties of “challenge determination” on Dec. 3, according to the June 20 staff report. The awards announcement will be in late December.
“What we learned in the pandemic is that broadband is becoming a utility,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said.
“It is not a luxury,” she said. “Telehealth, telelearning, telework is all done online now and it’s so important.”