June 6, 2018

Could Big Broadband be a Big Problem for Small Localities?

                 Broadband has been in the news a lot lately and rightfully so. With new expansions for Virginia Beach’s broadband capabilities on the horizon, everyone is anticipating the changes this new market could provide. But will broadband growth have the same impact on all of Hampton Road’s citizens?


                 History says it will not. Even with over 70% of the world’s internet traffic flowing through the Northern parts of our Commonwealth, many rural areas have limited access to the internet. Chesapeake resident Jose Vazquez says that he moved to the area to escape the busy New York life, but was disappointed when his internet access could not support his eBay business. For Virginia residents like Vazquez, basic monthly internet can be hundreds of dollars a month not including overage charges.

                 Under-developed broadband also has an impact on the education of Virginian children. While most kids can leave school with the ability to research a topic or complete homework at home online, kids in rural counties cannot. Even if they have basic internet access, the throttling of their service due to overages prevents many programs from loading.


                 The good news is that Virginia has a plan to expand broadband access. By 2019, Virginia Beach will be accepting multiple high-speeds cables for the EU and South Africa. These cables will make VA Beach the hub of internet traffic, and connectivity.


                 While the cables are a great opportunity for Virginia to develop both in access and economics, rural Virginian communities will only benefit if the execution of the cable’s integration is intentional. To ensure this, the Commonwealth has instituted standards for each locality to uphold with broadband development plans. A new board called the Virginia Rural Broadband Coalition (VRBC) will be overseeing this process, and continuing to develop new standards for the Commonwealth’s broadband development process.

                 The concern with the VRBC’s new standards is that rural communities in Virginia will not be able to catch up. Since they are already behind in broadband access, meeting new standards and developing integration plans will be twice as hard. But without meeting the standards, the localities could face serious backlash from the Commonwealth.

                 One solution for the localities is to partner with a third party who is educated in the analysis and development of broadband services. Since small locality budgets cannot fund hiring broadband specialists’ fulltime, working with educated contractors will be important. This can assist the localities in developing specialized integration and development plans for their community that meet the new standards set forth by the VRBC.