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Dempsey: Broadband is a priority for Sen. Boysko, but only if it's provided for profit

Dempsey: Broadband is a priority for Sen. Boysko, but only if it's provided for profit

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Tim Dempsey

Tim Dempsey

Back in early November, Sen. Jennifer Boysko, chairman of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, penned a rather touchy-sounding op-ed that sought to refute claims that rural broadband deployment was not a priority for the Senate. Pointing to increased state and federal spending and misleading statistics on improved broadband access (the state's only metric is physical access, not affordability), Sen. Boysko assured readers that the state is making good progress on this issue and attempts to change our current approach must be carefully considered. And what were the changes that needed to be carefully considered? Allowing public broadband providers to compete for Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grants.

For those who are unaware, state grants for broadband deployment are only doled out under the following conditions: 1) if the proposed infrastructure is to be privately owned (which, the coops aside, generally means ownership by the entities that created the problem in the first place; i.e. investor-owned, for-profit companies), and 2) if the deployment does not create competition (in her op-ed, Sen. Boysko refers to this latter phenomenon as "overbuilding," a term that is employed here to serve the same purpose as the words "death panel" did in debates over Obamacare). As a result, not-for-profit, community-oriented broadband providers like Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority and Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, among others, are unable to compete (compete, mind you) for these scarce public funds. More's the pity, as these public entities are deploying future-proof, all-fiber, open-access networks that are much better investments of public money than the increasingly obsolete coaxial networks of the cable companies.

Sen. Boysko clearly does not care for such not-for-profit providers, nor does she value choice, which we can see in her two broadband-related bills this session. One bill, SB 1225, will establish new rules to make it easier for schools to partner with broadband providers to connect disadvantaged students at home. What kind of providers? Private only, of course. Another bill, SB 1413, was submitted to counter one from John Edwards that would eliminate the ban on "nongovernmental" providers tapping power utilities' excess fiber to provide service in unserved areas. God forbid.

Looking at this pattern of behavior, we can indeed set the record straight: broadband is a priority for Sen. Boysko, but only if it's provided for profit.

Tim is a resident of Arlington and an organizer with ArlFiber.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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