Although Loudoun County is home to the data centers that direct much of the country's Internet traffic, a new study says that nearly one-third of county households have no access to the high-speed connections called broadband.
The survey, which was done by the county, was the first comprehensive look at an issue county officials say has far-reaching implications for both business development and the overall connectedness of county residents. It found that 27,800 households couldn't order broadband if they wanted to.
Scott W. Bashore, who started his job as Loudoun's first manager of broadband services in April, released the tally last week. Bashore will use the data as part of the county's effort to spread high-speed access, both by pressuring and enticing private firms to take action and by looking for other ways local government can help.
"I want to choose the model that's going to get the best payback for residents," he said. Bashore is a former senior program manager in broadband services at Loudoun-based America Online Inc. and has worked for years in information technology. He was director of broadband services at PSINet from 1997 to 2001.
For instance, Bashore has been talking with DynamicCity, a Utah-based firm that is working with a group of 14 cities and communities in Utah to stretch fiber-optic lines that could serve 160,000 customers. Construction is funded by government bonds, while private firms provide the broadband service. The bonds are repaid with revenue generated on the new network. Proponents say the arrangement is like that of a public airport with private airlines, and Bashore said he is investigating whether a similar effort can be replicated in Loudoun.
A key issue is how to stretch lines, or send wireless signals, to all parts of Loudoun. While high-speed lines were installed in the county's east to serve major Internet hubs, the 300-square-mile west is much less intensely wired. Verizon, Adelphia and a number of wireless firms, such as Roadstar, serve the county now.
"One of the real goals of this is we want to make sure we don't end up with a geographic divide or a socioeconomic divide," said Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), who chairs the Board of Supervisors economic development committee and has pushed for expanded access.
Bashore is still figuring out the best way to convince private firms of the opportunities to be found in the fast-growing county. Telecommunications infrastructure is expensive, and money for such projects is much harder to find now than during the telecom boom. He will report back in three months on possible strategies, he said.
Bashore said 45 percent of county households have ordered broadband service, while 24 percent of households could order it but have not. He said that if that same proportion holds for the 27,800 homes that can't get high-speed access, about 18,000 Loudoun households want that access but can't get it.