Broadband Internet Access

Early on, PNK2030 realized that Internet access was an important issue in NKC. Rural areas in general have been left out of the digital revolution; 50% of rural Virginians lack BB, 29% have no Internet at all.

Background

In NKC, over 3,000 households lack high-speed Internet access. The county’s Heritage Public Library has stated that they have “parking-lot patrons” who bring their children to the library’s parking lot to access WiFi Internet so they can complete their homework for school. The library intentionally leaves their WiFi on on 24 hours a day to accommodate these patrons. The other big location for school children is the McDonald’s parking lot.

NKC appointed a broadband steering committee several years ago, but  the group was not successful, and eventually disbanded.

Re-Ignition

NKC seemed to be stalled in its attempts to provide a solution to its lack of high-speed Internet access. The PNK2030 Strategic Planning Committee took the initiative to find a consultant who might re-ignite the the desire to find a solution. Two PNK2030 members, Chuck Ward and Charles Karow met with the county administrator in February 2019 to offer our help and support to revive the momentum in NKC. We informed the county about the consultant, Sandie Terry, who could assess the current situation, and offer strategy alternatives for the future.

The county did engage the consultant, Sandie Terry, and formed a steering committee, the New Kent County Broadband Advisory Committee (NKCBBAC), to work with the consultant to create a plan to get high-speed Internet access to all residents of NKC. Charles Karow was appointed to the NKCBBAC, and has been very active in its deliberations.

Information

The consultant, Sandie Terry, completed the first part of her work in early June, 2019; to identify key resources and existing coverage in the county. Her final report included alternatives and cost estimates for our consideration and was delivered in July, 2019. Her full report is available online, for anyone to read.

Mr. Karow has gathered the facts, done his homework and prepared two backgrounders on Internet access. You can read his Backgrounder on Broadband and his Backgrounder on Open Access Networks.

Advisory Committee

The NKCBBAC has met four times; below are summaries of these meetings and a few additional activities related to broadband access.

June 3 – NKCBBAC meeting: After some introductory remarks from Rodney Hathaway, the bulk of the meeting was a presentation by Sandie Terry on the results of her study on the current state of broadband in NKC.

Some highlights:

  • About 30% (almost 1/3) of the addresses, including 340 businesses, in NKC are considered “unserved” [although, from the map, it appears that about 85-90% of the land area is unserved]
  • By using a model based on socioeconomic status, demographics, income levels, etc. it is estimated that we would have a “take rate” of 84% (this is considered a very high adoption rate)
  • Our schools will are well below the National Bandwidth Goals for Schools and Libraries
    – the highest concentrations of unserved households are in this end of the county (Barhamsville and Lanexa), and at the other end of the county (the area north of Quinton)
  • We have several commercial fiber lines and connection points within the county or close by
  • Verizon has been very public about their lack of interest in maintaining the copper landline infrastructure and they are actively pursuing actions with the FCC to make it easier for them to walk away from the copper/landline business.

Sandie has suggested that we again survey the county residents about their Internet experiences, this time with an open-ended questionnaire designed to solicit stories that can be used in grant applications.

June 24 – NK County administrator Rodney Hathaway and Charles Karow attended Congressman Rob Wittman’s regional broadband task force meeting, and heard from Federal and state officials, and private sector representatives, about the current state of rural broadband. Hathaway and Karow spoke with Rob Wittman and invited him to address the NKCBBAC, to which he readily agreed.

July 31 – NKCBBAC meeting: Sandie Terry presented her final report, along with some implementation alternatives and estimates, and recommended next steps. The committee did not reach any consensus on how to proceed, but planned to have several meetings over the following weeks with a goal to have a recommendation for the BoS by the end of the year.

Aug 2 –  Congressman Rob Wittman held a “Field hearing” at which he and the governor’s chief broadband advisor addressed several PNK2030 members, NKC officials and interested citizens on what the Federal and state governments were doing to help us. (Only one member of the NKCBBAC attended.) Attendees were pleasantly surprised to find out that the state may be able to help us with planning help, tools, policy changes, and possibly even money. It is the governor’s goal to have every citizen in VA connected within 9 years from now, and the state’s broadband people have been directed to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

August 29 – NKCBBAC meeting: Chuck Ward and Charles Karow presented a backgrounder on rural broadband that explained technological and business issues, leading to the conclusion that an open access fiber-to-the-home network, supplemented by fixed wireless where feasible, owned by a county-owned “authority” would be our best solution. The presentation was well-received; unfortunately three members of NKCBBAC were absent.

September 11 –  NKCBBAC lunch meeting, where the chairman, Chris Stone, took the lead and summarized the progress made at the previous meeting and focused on getting to action steps. There was general agreement on technology of “fixed wireless where feasible, fiber where necessary,” recognizing that fixed wireless is not feasible in much of NKC because of the trees. It was felt that the next step in gathering information would be to get specific proposals with real-world figures for what it will actually cost to implement rural broadband in NKC. Rodney Hathaway took the action to draft an RFP, and a subcommittee (Chis Stone, Kevin Eddowes, Charles Karow and Bob Jeremiah) was appointed to review and edit the RFP in preparation for presentation to the NKC BoS.

October 10 – Several members of the NKCBBAC embarked on a field trip to the Eastern Shore to gather first-hand information on the implementation of a regional open-access network in Northampton and Accomack counties known as the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA). They found a very successful operation, mostly fiber-to-the-home, with several competing service providers. ESVBA are very happy with the services provided by the smaller ISPs, and they are actually running a profitable operation, without subsidies. The NK delegation came away highly impressed, and open to replicating the success in New Kent County.