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Broadband Expansion Underway

Projects and progress on the horizon.

Before Scott Bashore was hired as manager of broadband services for Loudoun County, the future of broadband development was unclear. With 31 percent of Loudoun residents living in areas not set up to provide broadband, Bashore was presented with the challenge of organizing and analyzing both the infrastructure and the data provided by Internet service providers.

"What we’ve done so far is mapped out where DSL and wireless access is in the county." said Bashore. "We needed to figure out where we were before we figured where we could go."

BY COMPARING the data of Loudoun Internet providers, such as Adelphia and Verizon, with a map of available broadband lines in the area, Bashore discovered gaps in the data. Groups of residential addresses, which were set up for broadband service, had been lost in the system. Bashore said that one man from Cascades tried to get service for more than a year, continually being told that his residence was not connected to the infrastructure. After comparing his location to a map of the infrastructure, Bashore found that the house was Internet-ready.

"I am just making sure services are available to citizens." said Bashore. "They [ISPs] have already spent the money and built the network." The ability to figure out gaps in the data and connect some Loudoun citizens should be an easy task. As Bashore says, the profits are like "low hanging fruit" for companies such as Adelphia.

As of now, Bashore is finishing up the final steps of analysis and preparing to report to the Board of Supervisors with a set of long-term goals for Loudoun County. One particularly important project is the creation of an I-Net. What is essentially an internal network, which would be reserved for county government use, the development of an I-Net would bring Loudoun up to speed with neighboring counties.

The Loudoun Broadband Coalition’s Vice president of technology Brian Chavis, explained that this independent network is traditionally built into negotiations with an Internet franchise. Counties typically have companies build separate lines designated for county use while they are constructing their own commercial lines. As of now, Loudoun is still leasing its broadband from Adelphia, however this will be a point of discussion in the upcoming re-negotiations.

"Having a direct connection means that we won’t depend on the public switch network." said Bashore. "Separation is important in case of an emergency." Remaining on leased bandwidth from a public network would prevent the government from communicating with itself and its citizens, should an event transpire that would cause the network to overload. In a post-Sept. 11, 2001 environment, this separate network is standard operating procedure for governments.

Loudoun County, which has roughly 2,000 employees and more than 50 buildings "needs to be connected for data communication," said Bashore. The development of an internal network would also cut money spent on leasing, which has been increasing every year by 50 percent, said Bashore.

But outside of modernizing the way the Loudoun government communicates with itself, citizens can also look forward to faster, more accessible broadband. Bob Gordon, chair of the Economic Development Commission’s Marketing Business and Retention Committee, said that "there should be a big focus on getting high-speed Internet access to the people." Gordon, who wrote the recommendation for Bashore’s hiring, believes that this can be achieved in two steps.

"First, mapping of the area is critical." The second step, said Gordon, is to build a fiber-optic loop.

BASHORE’S POSITION and initiatives are funded by county-imposed fees collected from the cable companies. In a sense, the percentage of revenue collected is being reinvested to benefit citizens, business and government alike. As Bashore says, "it’s a good allocation of resources."

With the highly publicized bankruptcy of Adelphia and its consolidation into Comcast, changes in Loudoun are afoot. Gordon is one of many who believe that with Bashore as the guide, Comcast will put resources in the area for selling data and phone services. Verizon, who is now competing in the Northern Virginia area by installing fiber-optic cables, will also be a main player in Loudoun. At this point it seems that the market and competition will be a large driving force in broadband development.

The expansion of broadband service is the next logical step for a county that consistently makes the top-three fastest growing counties in the nation.

"If Loudoun doesn’t have high-speed Internet access, that adversely effects the community’s ability to move forward." said Gordon.

So with companies developing game plans, re-negotiations with Adelphia in the near future, and a long-term plan of recommended policies prepared by Bashore to be pitched to the Board of Supervisors by the early first quarter of next year, progress seems to be underway. With funding for projects being raised next year, citizens can expect to see more changes and more access.

"The Board of Supervisors should be commended for hiring him [Bashore]." said Gordon. "Bashore is doing a fantastic job."