But if you happen to live in more rural western Loudoun, good luck getting decent Internet service. Courtney Shipe, according to the Times-Mirror, lives near Lovettsville and is hard-pressed to find an Internet provider.
She has managed to get connected through Verizon through a DSL link but “almost daily, our phone line and internet service will randomly cut off for hours at a time,” she told the newspaper. It’s cold comfort when technicians tell her the problem isn’t on her end.
It’s seems bizarre that in 2017 parts of Northern Virginia are still stuck with pre-1990s modes of communications. But it’s something much of rural Virginia has been dealing with for years.
The problem is simple economics. Big providers such as Verizon and Comcast favor densely populated suburban areas where their installation costs are low. They can boost their margins by bundling Internet with 300-plus channel cable television and phone service.
They are not exactly marching to remote areas to provide access. The biggest hang up is the so-called “last mile” to connect a distant household or business to a spoke-and-hub Internet network.
In southwest Virginia, localities such as Bristol have abandoned hopes of the Big Internet helping them out and have been operating municipally owned Internet providers for years.
Some have gotten financial help from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a kind of community development slush fund, with money from court settlements from large cigarette makers for health concerns.
But amazingly, the Internet service shortages still linger. In January, for instance, Fauquier County Public Schools partnered with Kajeet, a broadband provider, to bring Wi-Hi hotspots to students’ schools and homes. That way, they can do their homework as if they live in the 21st century.
But bringing broadband to the hinterlands faces other problems. Some for-profit companies unleash their lobbyists on the General Assembly to whine about publicly owned broadband providers.
And, although expanding Wi-Fi is a no-brainer when it comes to improving economic prospects for downtrodden communities, the Trump administration is going in the opposite direction.
While Trump claims he is the champion of coal miners in places such as southwest Virginia, his budget proposals would do away with the Appalachian Regional Commission, a 1960s-era public group that has been working to bring broadband to the coalfields.
If former coal miners can get linked up with the Internet, their transition to replacement jobs would be easier. Doing away with the commission doesn’t make sense.
West Virginia, with plenty of potential broadband users living in remote areas, may be a good example to follow. A bill moving through the state legislature would establish a 13-person broadband council to study and advise on broadband enhancement.
The bill would also keep Internet providers honest by requiring them to advertise their minimum possible speeds rather than tout maximums that do not always apply.
Trump says he wants to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure but hasn’t come up with any solid details. Expanding broadband would be a win-win.
Peter Galuszka is a regular contributor to All Opinions Are Local.