Madison County Supervisors are advancing their quest for broadband service throughout the county.
Earlier this month, supervisors voted unanimously to develop a request for proposals to hire a broadband consultant. The consultant’s main objective will be to provide direction, connect with internet service provider stakeholders and determine if the county should form a broadband authority or a taskforce. The latter has been much discussed.
Under the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act local governments can form a wireless service authority, or broadband authority, which can provide qualifying communications services including high speed data and internet access. Under Virginia law, localities can build and operate a publically owned network to provide internet service to publically owned buildings, but cannot provide service to privately owned buildings. A broadband authority, however, is allowed to connect to private buildings as long as it is operated as a non-discriminatory open access network.
During a January planning commission meeting, commissioner Peter Work made a motion to recommend supervisors create a broadband authority to extend affordable high-speed quality broadband and cell coverage throughout the county. The motion was approved 6-3 with commissioners Mike Fisher, Pete Elliott and Daniel Crigler dissenting. The three said they did so not because they aren’t in favor of the creation of an authority, but because they thought the motion went too far in the verbiage. They said the authority needs to develop its own tasks.
Since then, supervisors have discussed the need for broadband, but indicated they weren’t entirely sold on the creation of an authority. The main hold up? The ability of an authority to borrow funds on the county’s behalf.
“An authority being able to borrow money is scary,” board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson said.
“The word authority scares me to death they are going to come in and want something from the citizens,” he said.
Supervisors Carty Yowell said everyone is eager to expand broadband within the county. He said neighboring Rappahannock County formed a broadband authority because any funding contributed to a private broadband company would have to go through an authority.
“That’s consistent with why we have an IDA [Industrial Development Authority],” supervisor Kevin McGhee agreed.
Rappahannock County decided to staff its authority with county supervisors for the first few years to establish control over it. Other counties have different authority makeups, including Orange County which has three supervisors on its authority.
It’s not yet clear what Madison County Supervisors will decide, but the draft RFP was listed on the agenda for this week’s board of supervisors meeting.