Post written by Grafton deButts, VP of Membership & Government Affairs
At the last Business Meeting of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Supervisors Kershner (Catoctin) and Buffington (Blue Ridge) brought to the Board a proposal for the extension of broadband into Western Loudoun County. This proposal, as detailed below was unanimously approved.
The Chamber has long supported the adoption of policies and funding that encourages the continued expansion of private sector broadband services throughout the County, including strategic location of towers to support wireless access. A robust, innovative and digitally connected agricultural and rural economy is also critical to ensure that Loudoun’s agricultural and rural-based businesses are viable and productive.
Please see full details of this plan as summarized by Supervisor Kershner in his recent constituent newsletter.
From Supervisor Caleb Kershner – 11.19.20
“The Board unanimously approved the Emergency Broadband Initiative that Supervisor Buffington and I brought to them on Tuesday. Broadband connectivity in Western Loudoun has been a chronic issue for years. Tuesday night’s action by the Board was a major milestone for the Catoctin and Blue Ridge districts, as the Board voted unanimously to implement a practical set of plans that will extend real broadband coverage further into Western Loudoun. This was a truly historic vote by the Board, and I’m grateful to all of my colleagues for their support.
I would also like to thank senior staff who worked incredibly hard to pull together the resources for this next step: our County Administrator, Tim Hemstreet, our Deputy County Administrator, Charles Yudd, and our Assistant County Administrator, Erin McLellan. By building on the work done by prior Boards and by the Communications Commission, we now have a multifaceted and actionable plan to extend coverage to the areas that need it most.
Key Provisions of our Initiative
Items 1 – 4: Removes regulatory barriers impeding telecommunications facilities development in Loudoun County. Fees and processes are decreased in order to facilitate the approval process.
Item 5: Expedites funding to finish the dark fiber buildout to Bluemont and Philomont Community Centers, Philomont and Loudoun Heights Fire and Rescue Facility, and the Loudoun Heights Public Radio Safety Center.
Item 6: Establishes a regular reporting schedule on a number of items critical to continued expansion.
Two critical components of the Emergency Broadband Implementation Plan already established are:
- A new Telecommunications Project Map that for the first time captures information on a number of key datasets identified by the Board, as well as additional broadband-relevant data that provides additional contextual information important in understanding the overall picture of connectivity in Loudoun County. (see article below)
- Unsolicited Proposals for Public-Private Partnerships. As permitted under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, the County will accept solutions to address the last mile gaps in unserved and underserved areas of Loudoun County. Staff knows of at least two potential unsolicited proposals that could be submitted in the future. This is hugely important to our plan, because it allows the County to receive (and leverage) comprehensive solutions from the private market. The County anticipates working with proposal submitters to identify funding requirements for solutions and identify opportunities for public/private partnerships.
THE MOTION THAT WE PASSED
Here’s the motion that we passed on Tuesday night, with my own notes on the practical effects of each provision added in red font:
I move that the Board of Supervisors direct staff to institute the following actions to affect the delivery and expansion of broadband service in identified underserved areas of Loudoun County:
- Waive pre-application (PRAP) requirements in order to reduce development application timelines for telecommunications facilities; (this cuts 30 days off of the application timeline)
- Direct staff to bring forward amendments to the Land Development Applications Fee Schedule to eliminate the Special Exception (SPEX) fees and establish a uniform $6,990 Commission Permit (CMPT) fee for all new telecommunications uses in identified underserved areas as shown on Attachment 2 of the November 17, 2020 item; (this reduces the SPEX regulatory fee in Loudoun County, currently one of the highest in the mid-Atlantic region)
- Establish a Telecommunications Application Ombudsman program; (this facilitates and provides certainty in the application process)
- Institute Telecommunications Application Assistance Meetings as a standard part of the applications process for a telecommunications use; (this facilitates and provides certainty in the application process)
- Execute a budget adjustment to move $191,000 from the IT Contingency project in the Capital Projects fund to the Remote Site Connectivity Project in the Capital Projects Fund for purposes of beginning the Request for Proposal Process to obtain a vendor to build additional fiber connections to the five remaining county facilities identified in the November 17, 2020 item; (Allows RFP process to begin six months sooner and potentially expedites construction for buildout to Bluemont and Philomont Community Centers, Philomont and Loudoun Heights Fire and Rescue Facility, and the Loudoun Heights Public Radio Safety Center)
- Provide the Board with quarterly updates beginning in January 2021 regarding progress on broadband initiatives identified in the November 17, 2020 item to include, but not limited to the following: (provides regular accountability to the Board on progress on solutions)
- Segra’s efforts to attract and contract with last mile providers;
- Applicability of HB2141 to Loudoun County;
- Funding sources available to support broadband initiatives including grant opportunities; and
- Partnership opportunities with power utilities for broadband expansion.