In conservative Virginia, local government considers the need for broadband

At a local economic summit, politicians expressed frustration at the "glacial" speed at which cable and telecom companies were providing access and the reticence of conservative Virginia government to get involved.

Here's local coverage on the broadband issue. Leesburg Today reports on an economic summit in Loudon County, Va., an exurb of Washington. The summit focused on the economic importance of the widespread availability of broadband. Politicians expressed frustration at the "glacial" speed at which cable and telecom companies were providing access and the reticence of conservative Virginia government to get involved.

The combination of state reticence and slow construction of needed high-speed infrastructure by the private sector has now reached a point where [state Delegate Joe T.] May said, “we are going to have to do something unusual in order to bypass the problem that’s associated with allowing private enterprise to proceed at such a slow pace. We can’t afford it. If Virginia is to remain competitive we must expedite the installation of the telecommunications [infrastructure].”

May said that telecommunications companies invest their finite construction funds “where the bucks are and, at the rate we are going, we are not going to be able to get the system in place in any reasonable period of time.”

 One possible solution, the delegate said was a high-tech version of the Rural Electrification Act, which created massive electricity development projects and provided power to rural areas.

Another speaker was Paul Morris, exec. dir. of Utah's Utopia project. 

He said work was almost completed in two of the 14 participating cities and the network would be expanded into four others in 2006. In the system, compared to that of a community-owned airport, a public corporation constructs the fiber optic infrastructure and rents space out to businesses that provide services to the customers. The “take rate,” or those signing up for services from third-party vendors, was well ahead of projections.

Morris devoted a significant portion of his time comparing the state and cost of broadband in the United States and abroad. His charts show that consumers here pay much more for less connectivity speed than anywhere else in the world. While U.S. consumers pay $35 per megabit of connectivity, other countries, such as Japan and in Europe pay anywhere from $1 to $5 for that same connectivity.

Finally, publisher Brett Phillips issued a call for local government to take action. 

"If we allow the movement of information to be Balkanized by the private sector economy, you are going to find that some people have it, and some people don’t have it. You are going to see that some businesses flourish and some businesses do not. And, it’s going to be related where they are geographically located,” he said.

“Across the nation, the push for equal access broadband has been universally local. This is something we can not blame the state for not doing; it’s not something we can blame the federal government for not doing. This is something we have to do ourselves. It is exactly like schools. It is exactly like roads. It is exactly like the utilities that service your house or your business. If we don’t do it that way, some of you in this room are going to have it and some are not going to have it in the foreseeable future.”