Yet More Limits on Local Government: Proposed Legislation By the Virginia Cable Industry

In the last few years, many rural localities frustrated with the inability or unwillingness of providers to extend broadband into underserved areas have created ways to do this using a variety of methods.  Some were able to establish new or extend broadband using equipment purchased under federally mandated emergency communication systems.  They installed broadband capability at the same time, creating their own cost efficient programs.  Others looked to piggy-back, inviting in another authority just across a county line, asking them to extend their territory fostering regional cooperation.  King and Queen County recently won a statewide award for their creative, innovative thinking in establishing their own internet authority. 

In Caroline, we had just begun to look at alternate proposals having been told no, no, and no by our cable providers.  Each time those providers added a caveat we heard loud and clear.  Extending the lines are not remotely profitable for their bottom line.

In one section of our county, we invited residents to get involved with the proposed construction of a Verizon cell tower which had been put on hold.  Dozens of residents obtained hundreds of signatures to show Verizon they were on board.  Verizon responded and this new construction resulted in a two mile internet capability in Sparta, a part of the most rural area of Caroline.  Plans are underway to partner with King and Queen to connect a few more dots in that area in the near future.    

An entity called The Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, however, would like all these local and citizen initiatives brought to a halt in a series of steps in proposed legislation which includes offering their members the job in an RFP, particularity ironic in Caroline’s case, since our providers keep assuring us there was no money to be made. 

To make matters worse, they want the locality to go to the expense of a referendum.  Seriously, they want to ask people if they want internet?

My hope would be that no member of the General Assembly, Republican, Independent or Democrat, will carry this legislation or entertain such a notion and will see it for exactly what it is — another inroad on local government and a slap in the face of creativity for localities who look for alternate ways to create services at a low cost for their constituents.  The other really sad and clear message is, if the cable company cannot provide it, citizens should not have it at all.  At the General Assembly level, while I would think just the basic principals of government and the free market system would kick in and this would go in the trash where it belongs, given last year’s plethora of legislation aimed at local government, I never know. 

Here are the details:  

From: Joe Lerch, VACo Director of Local Government Policy

Attached is an outline for proposed legislation that is being sought by the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA). This proposal will significantly diminish existing local authority for the provision of broadband services, and includes the following:

• Prior to establishing a public authority for unserved areas a locality would be required to solicit an RFP from commercial providers and hold a public hearing before the governing body votes to expand service;

• Prior to establishing service in areas already covered by commercial providers, a locality must get approval through voter referendum. (This requirement would also apply to the expansion of an existing locality network).

Prior to the legislation being drafted and introduced in the 2017 General Assembly, VACo is seeking feedback from our members on how this proposal will impact your locality’s current and planned efforts for the provision of broadband in your communities.

One of VACo’s legislative priorities for the 2017 session concerns Broadband deployment:

VACo urges the Commonwealth and the Federal Government to assist communities in their efforts to deploy universal affordable access to broadband for all areas, particularly in underserved and rural areas. Additionally, VACo opposes mandates that limit or restrict local land use authority for the siting of telecommunications infrastructure or result in a negative fiscal impact to county budgets.

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