Broadband controversy

Published 1:38 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Counties watching legislative proposal

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Surry and Isle of Wight county officials are closely watching House Bill 2108, which could affect a locality’s ability to provide broadband services.

Anything that adds restrictions to a locality’s ability to bring something of great importance is a concern, said Surry County Administrator Tyrone Franklin.

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Surry is in the midst of negotiations with SCS Broadband to rent space on a tower constructed by Surry County. If negotiations are successful, most areas in the rural county will have access to high speed internet.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Surry wouldn’t be where it is today if there were “a glimmer of restrictions,” Franklin said, adding that it’s been difficult enough to obtain the grants and other resources necessary to get the tower constructed. 

House Bill 2108, the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” introduced by Del. Kathy Byron, R-22, was roundly criticized as seeming to favor established internet providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, and hamper competition that would, in turn, reduce prices for consumers. 

A proposed substitution, which removed much of the objectionable language, was introduced last week and the bill remains in the House Committee on Commerce and Labor, which met Tuesday.

Isle of Wight County officials are concerned with the portion of the revised bill that deals with Freedom of Information Act exemptions, which could lead to open negotiations with providers, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Meanwhile, Isle of Wight is planning to rent space on a series of new public safety towers to internet providers.

There is some concern that the bill could still hamper those efforts, Robertson said.

Isle of Wight could probably still rent the space, but the bill would impede the county from partnering with a provider, such as sharing revenue or having a say in where and what type of service would be offered, Robertson said.

Parts of Isle of Wight have access to Charter Communications, which bundles internet service with its cable television service. However, other areas are underserved. The agreement is specific to cable television and does not exclude another internet provider from coming to Isle of Wight County.

Franklin said the large providers have always had the opportunity to come into rural areas, but it “wasn’t in someone’s business plan.”

“We can’t wait to be in someone’s business plan,” he said.

Surry has been working to obtain widespread broadband service throughout the county since 2007.

Franklin is concerned that the proposed substitution, while it has fewer restrictions than the original bill, could still lead to something being added later on.

“Is it a Trojan horse?,” he asked.  {/mprestriction}