Our future, at least part of it, exists on the internet. Already many in our country and across the world depend on this tool for commerce, information gathering, and even government transparency. However, a real question that has to be posed is how to we access the internet. Many have a connection at home, though in rural areas this is not always the case. Or, in the case of places like Alexandria where competition for service providers does not exist, we live at the mercy of wireless phone companies or our single local cable provider.
While attracting different providers is an option in some places, and federal programs exist to help bring broadband to underserved areas, it leaves places like our city in a quagmire. For many reasons we have not attracted additional competitive service providers to the City of Alexandria for cable and internet. In a long-awaited response to this, the city is working toward a municipal broadband program. They are looking to build the infrastructure needed to connect public buildings and then enter into public-private partnerships to ensure residential buildings to have access to the new network. This type of partnership has been successful elsewhere and gives us the opportunity to ensure the best service and pricing through competition in the marketplace. It means competition to make sure we have networks that can meet our needs and we have more than one option for a service provider to keep pricing fair.
From Alexandria’s Chamber of Commerce to consumers watching Netflix at home, Alexandrians are looking for good alternatives to make sure that we have the best access to the internet — it affects our economy, our regional competitiveness, our home values, and of course for many of us … our daily lives.
This year in the House of Delegates HB 2108 was proposed that would stop our city from moving forward with this type of plan. It would make it difficult for any locality that has existing service of at least 10/MBPS download and 1/MBPS upload speeds to be allowed to build out a municipal network.
Thankfully, during the committee process, some of the worst parts of the legislation were addressed. However, I am still opposed to the current version of the bill because it creates an environment that makes moving forward with municipal broadband concerning.
The new version of the legislation proactively empowers current Internet providers with a monopoly to undermine local communities which are working to modernize their local broadband infrastructure. It removes FOIA exemptions for any information related to “the fixing and revision of rates, fees and charges.” This potentially creates a loophole in which requests for competitively sensitive information, trade and proprietary information can be made and could in turn be used to undermine the operations of their competitors.
Access to the internet in a way that allows us to use modern technology is important for growing our local economy, competing regionally for jobs, and helping to education our youth. I have always been taught that in the vast majority of cases competition in the market helps make services better and more affordable. For something that has such an impact on us every day, we should not shy away from making sure we have done everything we can to have the best and most affordable service.
Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice and Counties, Cities, and Towns Committees. Visit www.charnieleherring.com.