Loudoun County's first manager of broadband services says he hopes to make faster Internet service available to all residents, reflecting the county's new push to close the digital divide.
"My goal is to improve broadband access in Loudoun County," Scott W. Bashore told about 60 people attending a Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at River Creek Country Club on Tuesday. But he said that so far he doesn't have "the one answer yet about how to do it."
Bashore, who has more than 10 years of experience in telecommunications and most recently worked as a senior program manager in broadband services at Loudoun-based America Online Inc., started his new job in April. He spent the first 41/2 months identifying the gaps in broadband service across the county.
He said that of Loudoun's 91,000 households, 16,431 have access to DSL and 24,394 have access cable broadband. An additional 14,379 households have access to both DSL and cable, 7,244 have access through fiber-optic lines and 959 are within reach of wireless signals.
Nearly one-third of all households, or 27,848, have no access to high-speed Internet. Most of those are in the rural, less populous western part of the county.
Attendees said they were concerned that some of their employees lacked access, limiting their ability to telecommute.
Many businesses want to increase their high-speed capacity, too, said Brian Chavis, head of the technology committee for the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, which, with the county economic development department, lobbied the Board of Supervisors last year to improve access to broadband technology.
"We don't really have broadband at the price we would like to have it," Chavis said, which he added can limit companies' abilities to grow or succeed.
Guy L. Jones, chief technology officer at George Washington University, said that although the school has installed its own fiber-optic lines, it is interested in adopting technologies such as videoconferencing that require more high-speed Internet capacity. "We need help from Loudoun to extend it," he said.
Michael J. Dailey, assistant vice president for business development at Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, said the company is looking at ways to run broadband over power lines.
Verizon Communications Inc. set up a table at the breakfast to advertise a new program to bring high-speed Internet to homes through fiber-optic lines.
"Clearly we view Loudoun County as an opportunity for us [to expand service]," said Catherine Hogan Lewis, Verizon's area manager for external affairs. But she said it is difficult to come into an area that was recently rural and wire it at the breakneck pace of development.
She said her company was primarily concerned with one question: "Can we recoup the investment we put in the infrastructure?"
Bashore said the high cost of acquiring and installing high-speed Internet has been a challenge for many companies since the dot-com bust. He said that broadband usually follows "big, shiny buildings" and that wiring residences is known as the "last mile" of development. It can be the most expensive step because it requires tailoring infrastructure for each home.
He said, however, that it is hard to explain this to residents who call him with questions like: "I live 21/2 miles down from AOL and MCI. Why can't I get high-speed Internet at my house?"