by Madison White Franks
Following a public hearing last Thursday, Lancaster supervisors adopted a resolution creating a broadband authority.
The resolution states the supervisors believe Lancaster is unserved or underserved by qualifying communications services and this affects public safety and is an economic, educational and social disadvantage to the citizens of the county.
A broadband authority would pursue high-speed technology options on the county’s behalf, according to authority member David Pere.
“We will be responsible for all things broadband in Lancaster County with access and adoption,” he said. “We will be incorporated under the State Corporation Commission. The authority has a five member board with a chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. We will form committees organized around functional areas. The plan is to operate an enterprise fund able to charge fees for service, issue debt and otherwise utilize business-like practices similar to local or regional water/wastewater authorities.”
The initial board of directors will include members of the broadband advisory committee which was created by the board of supervisors in April. Directors will include Pere, Gary Silverman, Margie Armen, Cassie Thompson and Kevin Bean. District 5 supervisor Robert Westbrook will serve as the board liaison.
Westbrook moved to adopt the resolution which passed 5-0 with support from District 1 supervisor Jack Larson, District 2 supervisor Ernest Palin, District 3 supervisor Jason Bellows, District 4 supervisor and chairman Bill Lee and Westbrook.
“As concerned citizens ourselves, we have stepped up and offered to put our time and talents into a sustained long-term effort creating a broadband service level that will work for our county now and into the foreseeable future,” said Armen.
The authority will hopefully be able to provide the funding for at least some of its projects through federal, state and other grants and possibly private grants, she said.
“We have begun to explore funding options for the authority. We are in the process of developing our budget for the first year. Once we have determined the funding required to achieve our first year goals, we will tackle the issue of funding sources,” said Pere.
The authority is also empowered by the statute to finance its activity by borrowing either in the form of loans or revenue bonds which would be repaid with the money generated by charging for services provided by the authority when those services become available, said Armen.
Members of the authority are personally committed to keeping the board of supervisors fully informed of all of their official activities on a regular basis and they expect to be in front of the board at every board of supervisors meeting, she said.
She also noted the articles of incorporation of the authority do not place any requirements for funding on the board of supervisors.
Charlie Costello of Merry Point raised concerns related to the code sections referenced in the resolution of Virginia Wireless Services Act and another section related to affordable and reliable broadband internet access.
He said that in the Virginia Wireless Services Act, there is a section referencing payment to the broadband authority. Westbrook said the broadband authority members have not requested any funds but could at a later date.
There is not a time frame to finish the work just as an electric co-op has no time frame, said Pere.
“As broadband objectives and goals are achieved, there will be a need to maintain performance levels,” he added. “I have full confidence that the Authority will be effective. As we grow and mature, the Authority will ask the people of Lancaster to help us define success. We will begin to assess the current state of broadband in the coming months which will include an online survey for Lancaster County residents.”
Regular meetings of the Lancaster County Broadband Authority will be held Fridays at 9:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 8311 Mary Ball Road, Lancaster.
Also related to improving internet access, Middle Peninsula Alliance representative Liz Povar presented information regarding PamunkeyNet. The build-out of the King and Queen broadband system is an example of a public initiative to address broadband deficiencies in a rural area that could lead to an opportunity to expand upon this initiative in other localities with the addition of new partners, she said.
PamunkeyNet can create a business plan that can help guide local broadband authorities, said Povar.
Addressing these needs on a regional basis would require a close collaboration among participating localities and the exploration by the Pamunkey Indian tribe would provide broadband service in the region to offer collaborative opportunities, she added.
She said she hopes the newly established broadband authority and her organization can work together to create better broadband access for the area.
Initial partners with the initiative are 15 local governments, two regional economic development organizations, the Pamunkey Tribe, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, Rappahannock and Germanna Community Colleges, one workforce investment board, Northern Neck Electric Co-Op, Rappahannock Electric Co-Op, Lumos Networks and Atlantic Broadband.
She also noted Dominion Energy is interested in being a partner.
Lancaster supervisors authorized a contribution of $4,000 to PamunkeyNet with the passing of the 2018-19 county budget at the end of June.