Broadband Access

Our students must do their homework now, not in 10 years! There is uneven access to the internet across Frederick County, but whether private academy, home or county schooled, Frederick County must provide our sons and daughters with the skill sets to get living wage jobs. Frederick County kids must be able to qualify for high tech, high salary jobs, not just blue collar. The families living on our century old farms, in rural areas, must not be penalized in doing their homework. Frederick County must take ALL appropriate steps to welcome, ease the transition and facilitate broadband development here in Back Creek where the need is greatest. #broadbandnow

Although the news from the federal government in DC is gridlock on Broadband and all other infrastructure, the situation in Virginia is different. It’s bright. The governor and legislature have put $19 million into new broadband buildouts in the 2020 budget. 

We’ve made some incredible discoveries in our quest to get the facts on broadband deployment and separate facts from myth. Please read the next 7 posts, each of which covers a different aspect of broadband here in Back Creek. As none of this has been covered in the press, you will be an exceptionally well informed person!

Many new applications assist farmers in monitoring, soil, water, large animals, and harvest readiness. Have you heard of Moo Monitors? Worn around a dairy cow’s neck like a dog collar, they monitor the cow’s health and alert the farmer if anything is wrong with her.  

Anybody missing a cow? Bulls and heifers apparently have a great curiosity about the universe at large – or at least that pasture over yonder, and numbers of them go AWOL each year in Frederick County. Sometimes they block traffic on local roads; other times they snarl up the interstates, or sometimes vanish into the woods. Law enforcement could save time and owners a lot of anguish if a GPS enabled tag or implant allowed these trail blazers to be promptly found, identified, and trailered up to return to their owner – who might have been unaware of the jailbreak.  #Broadbandisrealtime

Farmers can now take long distance learning courses put on by agricultural banks and co-ops, manufacturers and the Agribusiness Council of Virginia – but it all takes broadband to deliver it to the farmhouse.

Asian consumers love high quality fruit, especially apples, and there are many Asian grocery stores, like H Mart, in the core NOVA areas like Centerville. At least one Back Creek farm contracts to provide multitudes of large apples, which are displayed in artistic mounds to seduce customers. Ordering, invoicing and paying over the internet supports such business ventures that help our farmers expand their markets.

Heard of John Deere? Well they and other manufacturers now offer soil and plant monitors that mount on their tractors. In the field, the farmer can turn on the monitor and it will read water and soil conditions under the tractor and tell him or her how much fertilizer to put down. Why waste money putting down too much? These apps help a farmer make more money and work fewer minutes. Hey we couldn’t say hours, it’s farming after all. All of these need real time data that only broadband provides. 

Back Creek has many “Century Farms,” farms that saw this county through the Civil War, World Wars I and II, farms that contributed to the prosperity of Frederick County. It’s high time to offer these farms the support of instant data feedback and education to keep these families strong for another hundred years.

Many other types of businesses could locate in rural areas and provide quality jobs close to home or homebased – for folks in small communities – but without broadband, entire swathes of rural areas in VA are dead zones for entrepreneurship.

Broadband’s technical ability to deliver the internet, and the commitment of companies like Comcast, Verizon and Shentel to provide low cost packages to families, are critical to educational support for our students. So much of homework assignments now consist of researching information and facts on the web. Our workforce readiness scores as a county rely on access to high bandwidth. 

Many schools in Frederick County offer agricultural curriculum. Students must be able work in a continuum between school and home, perhaps taking measurements or processing test results. Only broadband supports the students of our farming families in a seamless manner.

College students taking telecourses from universities and colleges offering distance learning programs cannot participate without low cost, reliable, high speed bandwidth. 

We all know someone who hates to go to the doctor’s office – or can’t get there. Almost all major health care providers are building their offerings of E Health or Tele Health appointments with doctors, nurses and counselors. Used for monitoring appointments on chronic conditions, or ongoing mental health counseling sessions for veterans with PTSD, or people in opioid recovery programs, broadband allows the people of our county to get this kind of help. But your signal must be consistent. Imagine the panic of a mother trying upload the video of her epileptic son’s seizure to his doctor and the signal drops off. 

Communication issues affecting the Fire and Police Departments remain unsolved due to the extreme topography of parts of Frederick County. Many incidents of rescue, fire suppression and crime response require our first responders to coordinate deployment of people and resources, report on a moving fire or a suspect’s whereabouts.

Particularly up on the mountain, there are dead zones where the aging portable radios do not connect to the digital system. If the Fire Department were to put up enough towers of its own to fix this problem, the cost is estimated at $22 million. If the broadband project deploys additional transmission towers for delivering broadband signal, the Fire Department’s transmission equipment could also be placed on these same towers. By piggybacking on these towers, considerable cost savings could be achieved while improving communications for both fire and sheriff’s personnel working in these areas. It also saves taxpayer dollars, so it’s a win-win.

It’s fake news that there is no hope and no money for broadband development in VA and the 29% of the rural population that can’t connect. VA is alive with broadband development. The Federal Communications Commission just gave grants to 34 VA counties – [but we didn’t apply]. The governor, working through “VATI” the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, asked for $50 million and got $19 million from the legislature. This jump up from $4 million is a game changer and $250 million more is planned for the next 10 years. From Albemarle to York, counties have been racing to participate, while Frederick is still getting organized.

This is “last mile” money given to providers partnered with local government to do the buildouts to low density rural communities, and is matched by funds from the Feds, localities and private companies. Communities are proposing blended delivery systems, a mix of cable and levels of transmission in their applications. Sometimes these are called hybrid systems. Counties along the Chesapeake Bay, near Petersburg and Appomattox, south of Roanoke near the North Carolina border are doing it. If it can succeed in these profoundly isolated areas, it can work for Star Tannery, North Mountain and Shawneeland, though mountains are trickier than water meadows. 

Frederick County is waking up to the new conditions and must scurry to compete for funds and infrastructure. Can you imagine zero thought being given to building broadband infrastructure into the mammoth Snowden Bridge development?  Condemning all those families to $100 monthly data bills shows how outdated the mostly same old elected officials are in their thinking, and why new blood is needed on the board.

The Board of Supervisors’ website says the last meeting on Broadband was in 2013! Though in reality three supervisors meet with the IT folks regularly – not that the county would tell us about this. If elected, I will eagerly participate in such meetings, and keep you informed, unlike the incumbent. 

The county urgently needs to adopt a set of policies friendly to broadband, like our fellow counties have already done. 

  • Prioritize broadband as a major goal across departments and among the community at large.
  • Adopt the DIG ONCE ordinance, requiring every home, every housing tract, every strip mall, and every business park to share the trench at the time of original construction by installing inexpensive conduit pipe through which broadband fiber can be installed at a later date.
  • Determine technology to efficiently complete the connections to individual homes.
  • Secure a private sector provider as a co-applicant for state grants; here in Frederick County that would be Shentel or Comcast.
  • Review and re-negotiate current development proffers that do not support broadband to the extent permitted by law.
  • Bring political and Chamber of Commerce support to bear on Shentel and Comcast to support our grant applications. I call on the full board to issue a proclamation for such support. You can call or email your board members to get them going. And remember, a vote for Jennings is a vote for broadband.

Competitive grant applications are due in Richmond in early September and Frederick County staff is trying to meet the conditions to apply for the first time ever. We wish them luck!

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