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Broadband Coming Closer, Lacking Cost Estimates

High-speed internet could greatly reduce costs to schools, homes.

Brian Chavis held up a yellow bundle of thin wire at Tuesday's Economic Development meeting. Chavis, the chair of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce's technology committee, was on hand to demonstrate how that bundle of fiber-optic cable could change the way things work in Loudoun.

"It unclogs a road. It gives us a better quality of life. It's the kind of thing that gets us home for dinner," Chavis said. "There are so many benefits from broadband."

Bringing broadband to the county has been an official goal since the Board of Supervisors made a resolution endorsing the effort in June; but the initiative has been in the works by the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission for longer than that. The two organizations' work has culminated in a presentation made to the board's Economic Development committee on Tuesday — now all that remains is to start putting the effort into motion.

THE PLANNING PROCESS is still in the stages early enough, however, not to have any solid numbers on cost. Fiber-optic cable, the ultimate conveyer of broadband, can run $25,000 to $30,000 per mile — but that cost, Chavis says, can be shared by a private-public partnership.

Obtaining right-of-way along Virginia Department of Transportation roadways is another sticking point, Chavis acknowledged. Loudoun could, however, follow Fairfax County's example. The eastern neighbor used cable franchise partnerships in the '90s to lay the infrastructure for broadband along easements obtained by the cable companies. At the time, Loudoun's population was not dense enough to easily encourage Adelphia to do the same here.

Now that Adelphia's contract is up for renewal, however, that story could change.

"This is kind of a no-brainer as far as easements are concerned," said Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac). "The question is, how do we pay for it?"

THAT WAS the question on Supervisor Jim Burton's (I-Blue Ridge) mind as well. When Chavis said the presentation avoided numbers, Burton simply said, "I noticed that."

As a preliminary figure, the EDC estimates that the county will be accountable for $300,000 to $500,000 to establish a broadband "czar" and finance a broadband study. That number could change, however, depending on how many businesses in the private sector want to be involved.

The costs, according to Tuesday's presentation, will be minimal compared to the savings the county will experience once broadband internet is available. The EDC estimates that the school system could save as much as $2 million a year in telecommunicating costs once the county has its own infrastructure in place, rather than paying for an outside provider.

For a home in western Loudoun to have high-speed internet access, it can cost nearly a thousand dollars a month under the current situation.