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New Book Explores Why Lack of Broadband Access Has Been a Struggle in Virginia

The lack of broadband connection across parts of Virginia has been a source of concern for years. Now, a new book explores why.

Community and municipal broadband in Virginia has been blocked by a powerful coalition of legacy telecom companies and cable providers: Cox, Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon and AT&T. That's the conclusion of James Bohland at Virginia Tech, who wrote a chapter about barriers to community and municipal broadband in a new book titled Vibrant Virginia.

"Their lobbying efforts within Richmond have been successful in creating legislation that makes it very difficult in Virginia for municipalities to create broadband network systems," Bohland says.

Local governments are not allowed to subsidize development of broadband infrastructure. They're also not allowed to set prices lower than the incumbent providers. The governor's broadband advisor, Evan Fineman, says he rejects the idea that the coalition is blocking progress.

"The argument that that coalition has created some kind of tremendous problem; I just don’t think it holds water," Fineman argues. "I've been out here doing it, and to the extent I've had to deal with the members of that coalition they've been helpful where it was in their interest or they've gotten out of the way."

He says local governments can always set up an authority to run broadband if they want to, but he adds that the math doesn't really work out for rural areas which is why it hasn't happened all that much. Instead, he says, Virginia should be patient with the current approach, which he says should allow for almost universal broadband access within the term of the next governor.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.