A legislative proposal by the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA) would impose an additional set of significant requirements (beyond those currently required by law) and burdensome limitations for a locality or municipal authority to bring broadband to unserved areas, particularly in rural parts of the state.
Many VACo members have invested time, resources, and expense for the deployment of broadband to serve schools, businesses, and residential areas. HB 2108 (Byron), if passed, could halt these efforts and potentially bar future initiatives. Two of the most troubling aspects of the bill relate to financing and planning. First, the bill states a locality shall not “… provide loans, or issue notes or bonds, or facilitate the construction of facilities, to provide communication services….” The core foundation of the municipal broadband authorities being created in Virginia is the ability to leverage public investment, including existing infrastructure, to provide coverage where it currently does not exist. Second, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), provides an exemption for a local governing body to hold discussions with commercial internet service providers for the creation of potential public-private partnerships to serve communities.
The bill, as drafted, would require such discussions be open to the public. This change in policy will effectively limit the willingness of private internet service providers to explore and potentially partner successfully with localities to provide broadband.
Further analysis of the bill will continue to determine other aspects that impact local authority, and VACo will provide updates including any calls to action for contacting legislators. Stay tuned.
VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP