Virginia Counties May Withdraw From Open-Access Broadband Initiative

The city of Roanoke, Virginia, and its neighboring city of Salem want to build a fiber network throughout the Roanoke Valley, but will their surrounding counties go along with the plan?

The city of Roanoke, Virginia, and its neighboring city of Salem want to build a fiber network throughout the Roanoke Valley, but will their surrounding counties go along with the plan? Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

But will Roanoke be perceived as being a technological backwater?

Southwest Virginia’s Roanoke Valley likes to promote itself as a good environment for business. Anchored by the city of Roanoke, Virginia Tech is nearby and the cost of living is low compared to other Virginia and U.S. cities. Industrial electricity rates are below the national average. So too are construction and labor costs.

But approximately three years ago, some influential members of the area’s business community asked local officials to examine where the Roanoke Valley stood in terms of its Internet connectivity and whether the area was losing any competitive edge in attracting new business and supporting existing tech companies or other broadband-dependent businesses.

Smaller Virginia towns were garnering national attention for their local broadband infrastructure efforts. Galax, near the North Carolina border, joined forces with neighboring small communities to create the Wired Road Authority, a public-private partnership, which in 2009 led to an open-access, integrated regional broadband network with 100-megabit connections and, later, gigabit connections in 2013.

In 2007, Danville, an economically languishing tobacco and textiles town also near the North Carolina border, created a high-speed municipal open-access fiber network, nDanville, that first connected schools and later, businesses. It’s since been touted for its local economic development efforts.

In the Roanoke Valley, local leaders hired a consultant to figure out whether the area was falling behind.

Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess, whose city adjoins the city of Roanoke, told GovExec State & Local on Monday that when you examine the area’s digital connectivity, one thing is clear: “We don’t think we have what we need to attract new technology businesses to the Roanoke Valley.”

That led to the creation of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, a coalition of two independent cities, Roanoke and Salem, plus Roanoke County and Botetourt County. The group, formed in 2013, has been in the early stages of creating its own open-access fiber network, which is slated to cost $8.2 million.

The aim is to add five rings of fiber throughout the Roanoke area, creating a local network approximately 60 miles in length. That would tap directly into two existing high-speed fiber networks nearby — Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative’s network, which connects to a long-distance line between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and Citizens Telephone Cooperative’s BTOP network in Southwest Virginia, which has connections to Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech.

But on Friday, broadband authority representatives from the two counties, including Roanoke County Administrator B. Clayton Goodman III, indicated that they may soon back away from their support of the initiative, citing not just budgetary constraints but also, as The Roanoke Times reported Friday, “a more philosophical debate about the the role government should play in society.”

And that might leave the two cities, which already have pledged their support, to pursue a scaled-back project without the help of the counties.

“Not everyone looks at this in the same way. The cities of Salem and Roanoke see this as a necessary economic-development effort,” Boggess told GovExec. “The questions being asked right now are: ‘If we do this, who really benefits? . . . Are we competing with the private sector?’”

Robert Picchi, a consultant for Blue Ridge Advisory Services, which was hired to draft the broadband plan, spoke about the relationship between digital infrastructure investment and local business climate during Friday’s broadband authority meeting.

“Either you believe there is a linkage between investment in technology and economic development, or you do not,” he said, according to The Roanoke Times. “And I cannot change your minds.”

Boggess told GovExec that supporters of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority’s project view the community’s investment in the open-access network as one that will attract new businesses and help existing ones get improved connectivity.

“We simply want to create the infrastructure,” he said, stressing that this is not a municipally owned “last mile” network, one that brings Internet access directly to individual customers who might not be well served by existing Internet providers.

“We’re not here to compete,” Boggess said. “We’re simply here to build a suitable open-access network that any qualified user can use.”

That includes existing “incumbent” Internet providers. “With open-access fiber, incumbents can use it and new players can use it, too,” Boggess said. “The incumbents have expressed some of their concerns to local officials . . . and now we’re seeing the results of that.”

Boggess said that the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority will meet on Aug. 7 to determine next steps and whether the cities of Roanoke and Salem will have to go it alone.

“My hope is that we will have figured out whether or not that the two county representatives will support this plan,” he said. “If by [Aug. 7] , if it appears that we won’t have the support from the counties . . . I hope that the cities will be ready to move on a backup plan.”

If the counties pull out of the coalition, it would mean that the cities of Roanoke and Salem would have to scale back the proposed broadband network from five rings to perhaps two or three.

Boggess said that Salem is well positioned to help host a local fiber network because it already owns its own electric utility, some existing fiber infrastructure of its own and a data center.

Still, if Roanoke and Botetourt counties pull out, it could project an image that the Roanoke Valley isn’t a place where tech companies would want to set up shop because of a reluctance by local officials to expand fiber networks.

“I think that, unfortunately, that might be the perceived message,” Boggess said, adding that would be an unfair perception. “We have some great advantages here in the Valley,” for tech companies, he said.

As the county representatives continue to examine the merits of the Roanoke Valley broadband investment, supporters are waiting for news about where the counties stand on the project.

With Virginia’s local governance structure of independent cities and counties, “sometimes it’s hard to pull everyone together,” Boggess said. “Hopefully we will find a way to move forward together. . . Hopefully we will be so successful that everyone wants to join in.”

(Image via Joe Ravi/Shutterstock.com)

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA
Improved Water Quality and More Field Time Due to a 97% Reduction in Office Admin Work
Marin County, CA, USA

NEXT STORY: What's Behind the Backlash to Houston's 'One Bin for All' Program

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.