Loudoun is making real progress on connecting its residents to true broadband access. Lack of universal broadband connectivity has negatively impacted Western Loudoun residents and businesses for many, many years. Members of the community and prior Boards have pushed for solutions for a very long time and now, finally, broadband connectivity obstacles are starting to crumble. It is deeply rewarding to see a very bright light at the end of a very long tunnel.
When I started to see the unbelievable toll that COVID impacts were having on students and families who were required to learn and work at home with either no or extremely insufficient internet access, I knew we had to address broadband connectivity once and for all in Loudoun County — the wealthiest and fastest growing county in the United States. The catalyst for this process was an Emergency Broadband Implementation Plan approved by the Board on September 15, 2020. Drafted by my office, this plan built on the work done by our Communications Commission and by previous Boards. It laid out a five-part, multifaceted and actionable plan that would extend coverage to the un- and under-served parts of Loudoun, trim away fees and regulatory barriers that were slowing down telecommunications facilities, finish the buildout of the Dark Fiber Wide Area Network (SEGRA) project, and create an active tracking document of completed, ongoing, and planned telecommunications projects. Most importantly, staff was directed to identify additional solutions for deploying critical broadband to underserved areas of Loudoun County.
This was a truly historic vote by the Board. Since then, Loudoun has made measurable progress in carrying out this plan. Much of this has been important but unglamorous procedural fixes. However, the most crucial progress so far has come from the effort to identify additional solutions for deploying broadband to Western Loudoun. I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support — and especially to Supervisor Buffington and Chair Randall, who signed on to the plan while it was still a mere Word document and a proposal. Special thanks are also due to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet, Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd, Assistant County Administrator and Acting Director of Information Technology Erin McLellan, and Assistant Director of Information Technology Dave Friedrich, who pulled together the resources needed to make this plan a reality.
The Board was recently able to celebrate a bigger-ticket success resulting from those efforts to identify additional broadband solutions. On July 20, the Board unanimously voted to commit $12.4 million from Loudoun’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to a $72 million public-private project, which will extend real broadband coverage into never-before-reached parts of Loudoun. This project, which will not use any local taxpayer dollars, is going to provide last-mile fiber-to-the-home connections to 8,800 un- and under-served homes and businesses. Doing that will bring connectivity to people who desperately need it.
Broadband has stopped being a luxury here in Loudoun. In our current era, where your job or your school may suddenly have to go online, internet connectivity is a critical necessity.
By extending this vital service into new parts of Loudoun, we are helping those businesses who can’t offer WiFi to customers or process credit card payments, and we are helping residents with limited or no broadband access, or who are still searching for a new provider in the wake of the Waterford Telephone Company closing its doors. The proposal will also increase competition with other providers and help drive down the cost of broadband in the west.
We’re doing this by leveraging private enterprise. Over half of this project’s funding is being provided by the private sector: All Points Broadband, Dominion Energy Virginia, and the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative have collectively dedicated $41.8 million to the project. And by using Loudoun’s federal aid funds as matching funds for a VATI grant, we will make our grant application more competitive. If the grant is approved, it will bring in another $17.7 million in state funding for the project.
Implementing this project in Loudoun will take from eighteen to twenty-four months. Although this time frame feels like an eternity to those of us who struggle with connectivity every day, please know that our offices will work to expedite the project. I am confident that Loudoun will get the long overdue connectivity that our Western Loudoun residents and rural businesses so desperately need to survive in today’s world.
Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner