I recently read an article posted on the CFFC website titled “Is Affordable Broadband Within Reach?” While the article, in general, captured some of the Board of Supervisors’ efforts to date, it failed to accurately depict our ongoing commitment to expand service throughout the county and inaccurately described some of our current efforts. As a result, I would like to offer the following clarifications and perspectives.
Firstly, the article implies that the county has settled on the Tower Incentive Plan (TIP) as its ultimate solution for broadband service in Fauquier. This is not the case. The Tower Incentive Plan, in conjunction with the Fauquier Economic Development Authority (FEDA), Calvert Crossland and the Path Foundation, was never intended to be used as a final solution for County broadband. Rather, the program’s purpose is to jumpstart the inevitable infrastructure requirement that will ultimately be part of an overall County broadband solution, while expanding needed cell service to areas of the County with insufficient coverage. By utilizing the FEDA and this approach, the County is able to work with partners, such as the Path Foundation, to lower costs to taxpayers and reduce the cumbersome and lengthy procurement process in order to deliver faster broadband service expansion to Fauquier residents, particularly those in deprived areas.
In addition, your article also leads the reader to believe that these towers will only provide a “mobile broadband” solution, such as cellular hotspots, and fails to mention that each tower built will have a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) as an occupant. For example, Calvert Crossland, the tower developer involved with the current TIP, has partnered with OmniPoint Technologies. OmniPoint is a WISP that uses an omni-directional signal, not dependent on line of sight, that currently costs less monthly than most WISPs operating in Fauquier and is capable of delivering download speeds of up to 50 mbps within 5 to 7 miles of a tower, depending on topography and elevation. For example, I live approximately 4 miles from the Casanova Tower, do not have line of sight, and my download speed this morning was 31.3 mbps. This speed was not attained through costly wiring, etc., but by using a fixed/mounted antenna on our barn which receives OmniPoint’s signal from said tower. This service more than meets the current broadband standard.
The ultimate County solution and goal includes a fiber backbone throughout our service districts, as well as last-mile connection options provided by multiple WISPs and fiber vendors. As the next step in an ongoing process, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors recently approved a Resolution to accept one solicited PPEA proposal and one unsolicited PPEA proposal for the provision of broadband services (http://agenda.fauquiercounty.gov//Bluesheet.aspx?ItemID=6449&MeetingID=157). This came as a direct result of an extensive Request For Proposals process which was ongoing for months. This next phase, expected to be completed by late March, includes a detailed design/build plan that will take into consideration existing County infrastructure/assets, such as Fauquier County Water & Sewer Authority water towers, County owned fiber, and County owned communications towers currently used for emergency services/dispatch. In addition, the plan will incorporate available positions on existing privately owned cell towers in the County. There was no mention of this in your article.
As your article accurately states, there are over 70 towers in Fauquier and, where possible, we expect many of these to be incorporated in the overall plan. However, this Board has no desire to “blanket our pastoral and historic views with communication towers.” Most certainly, there will be situations where towers may be needed in areas not considered ideal by some. Therefore, there may be necessary sacrifices in order to make sure all residents have access to reliable broadband. Without it, home healthcare, education and our local economy will suffer tremendously in the years ahead.
Rick Gerhardt, Supervisor
Cedar Run Magisterial District