Opponents of a Virginia house bill could that affect access to broadband across the commonwealth will hold a press conference in Richmond to discuss their concerns.
Broadband networks provide high speed internet. Some municipalities, such as Roanoke, have built their own broadband network and provide high speed internet access to local businesses, along with private competitors.
High speed Internet was not always as available in Roanoke as it is today. Two and a half years ago, according to Roanoke city manager Chris Morrill, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority was created in response to concern from businesses who said they did not have access to high speed internet.
“Several years ago, the business community came to the localities here and said, ‘Our Internet speeds are too slow. It’s too expensive. We’re not competitive. Step up and do something,'” Morrill explained.
Since then, the city has installed 50 miles of broadband, and local leaders want to continue the expansion, Morrill said. That is why he is concerned about House Bill 2108.
“It’s really written in a way that we could not expand our broadband network here in Roanoke if this bill passed,” he said.
Lawmakers who support the bill say already existing broadband would not be shut down, and businesses already on municipal broadband would not have to find another option.
House Delegate Kathy Byron (R) of the 22nd District, who introduced the bill, said it is about using taxpayer dollars to provide broadband to unserved areas, not in areas that already have service.
“We are actually trying to make sure that the limited funds and the funds that we have, especially using taxpayer dollars, are reaching the unserved Virginians,” Byron said.
The legislation is not about helping private competitors, she added.
“They have to try to establish public-private partnerships in order to ensure that we are not leaving the taxpayers holding the bag for these expensive networks,” Byron said.
Byron said she welcomes conversation about the bill and is willing to talk about possible changes.
The Friends of Municipal Broadband is a group that has formed in opposition to the bill. The group is hosting its press conference Wednesday morning.