The following resolution was submitted to the Arlington Democrats’ steering committee for consideration for adoption:

Resolution on forming a broadband authority for Arlington County to construct an open access software defined network that ensures high-speed, affordable internet service for all residents and businesses.

Whereas,

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the digital divide is a national emergency[1];

Before the current crisis began, Arlington County’s Department of Information Technology had estimated that 10 percent of households did not have internet at home[2];

The decision to conduct at least the first semester of the new school year online threatens to leave many school children behind[3];

The County and APS’s efforts to ensure internet access to low-income families are commendable but do not serve as a sustainable long-term solution[4];

Even before the pandemic hit, uneven access to internet among students has led to a homework and testing gap[5];

Current telecommunications legislation in Virginia prevents Arlington County from using its dark fiber network to provide service to privately-owned buildings[6];

Residents and businesses in Arlington have very little choice in their internet provider[7];

There is a correlation between an office building’s range of choice in internet service providers and its vacancy rate[8];

The County’s strategy for generating commercial revenues from its ConnectArlington dark fiber network have so far been unsuccessful[9];

Incumbent telecom providers have de facto monopolies over the local telecom market which allow them to charge exorbitant prices for internet service and provide little incentive for improving service quality[10];

The Virginia Democratic Party passed a resolution on expanding community broadband at its 2020 state convention[11];

The joint task force appointed by Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden has called for major investments in community broadband[12];

The Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act grants towns, cities, and counties the ability to form a “wireless service authority” that can provide high speed data and Internet access service, including through a wireline fiber optic connection[13]; 

Several counties and cities in Virginia have already formed “wireless service authorities” to address digital divide issues in their jurisdictions, the two most successful of which are the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority[14];

Several public broadband networks in United States have been ranked as the fastest in the country, if not the world[15];

Several public broadband networks in the United States have been very innovative in bridging the digital divide[16];

Community broadband networks act as a not-for-profit public interest utility and observe net neutrality and protect their users’ privacy[17];

The internet should be treated as a not-for-profit public utility that is available to everyone at home at a price they can afford (including free)[18];

An Arlington broadband authority could construct a software defined open access network that is publicly owned and operated, but with a choice of private service providers for subscribers to choose from[19];

A non-discriminatory public access network built and operated by a broadband authority but serviced by private third parties would be in compliance with Virginia telecommunication laws[20];

Other publicly owned, open access networks such as UTOPIA in Utah and the municipal network in Ammon, ID have built software defined open access networks that are considered to be among the fastest and most innovative in the country[21];

Private providers on the Ammon, ID municipal network offer subscriptions of 1 Gbps symmetrical for as low as $10 a month [22].

Therefore, be it resolved that the Arlington County Board should seek to increase local internet choice and bridge the digital divide by forming a broadband authority under the powers granted to it by the Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act that seeks to create a software defined open access network that in turn is publicly owned and operated but provides service through third party internet service providers, based on the best practices of models like UTOPIA and Ammon, ID.

References:

Adelstein et al. “Effective Utilization of Dark Fiber: Report and Recommendations Presented to the County Manager and County Board.” Arlington Broadband Advisory Committee. Undated. https://bit.ly/2LoZV7L

“Arlington Broadband Authority”. ArlFiber. Undated. https://arlfiber.org/arlington-broadband-authority/

Baller, Jim, et al. State Restrictions on Community Broadband Services or Other Public Communications Initiatives. BALLER STOKES & LIDE , 2019, p.5, https://www.baller.com/wp-content/uploads/BallerStokesLideStateBarriers7-1-20.pdf.

Chao, Becky and Lukas Pietrzak. “The Cost of Connectivity in Ammon, Idaho”. New America: Open Technology Institute, 22 January 2020, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/cost-connectivity-ammon-idaho/.

“Digital Equity – Connecting Arlington”, Arlington County Department of Information Technology, Undated, https://departments.arlingtonva.us/dts/digital-equity/

Gore, Jeffrey. “Wireless Service Authorities and the The Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act.” Virginia Association of Counties, 2008, https://bit.ly/33czKqJ.

Leerssen, Paddy and David A. Talbot. “Enabling Competition & Innovation on a City Fiber Network”. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Paper. 2017. https://bit.ly/2DKkHKE.

Lennet, Benjamin et al. “The Art of the Possible: An Overview of Public Broadband Options”. New America Foundation, 6 May 2014, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/policy-papers/the-art-of-the-possible-an-overview-of-public-broadband-options/.

Stanley, Jay. “The Public Internet Option: How Local Governments Can Provide Network Neutrality, Privacy, and Access for All”. American Civil Liberties Union, 2018, https://bit.ly/35uoebK.


[1] Katrina vanden Heuvel. “America’s Digital Divide is an Emergency”. Washington Post, 23 June 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/23/americas-digital-divide-is-an-emergency/. Daniel Castro, “Coronavirus Pandemic Exposes Why America’s Digital Divide is Dangerous”. USA Today, 1 April 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/04/01/coronavirus-pandemic-shows-dangers-americas-digital-divide-column/5093365002/.

[2]”Digital Equity – Connecting Arlington”, Arlington County Department of Information Technology, Undated, https://departments.arlingtonva.us/dts/digital-equity/

[3]Hannah Natanson, “Schools Are Some Families’ Best Hope for Internet Access, but Virginia Laws Are Getting in the Way”. Washington Post, 26 May 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/schools-are-some-families-best-hope-for-internet-access-but-virginia-laws-are-getting-in-the-way/2020/05/22/520cc46c-95f3-11ea-82b4-c8db161ff6e5_story.html.

[4]”COVID-19 and Digital Equity in Arlington”, ArlFiber, 17 July 2020, https://arlfiber.org/2020/07/17/covid-19-and-digital-equity-in-arlington/.

[5]The Pew Research Center found in 2018 that 17 percent of all teenagers had been unable to finish homework assignments because they lacked an appropriate computer or Internet connection. A high-speed connection was lacking in 35 percent of households with school-aged children and an income below $30,000; broadband was absent in just 6 percent of school-aged households with incomes above $75,000. A separate Pew study last year found that a quarter of low-income households relied solely on smartphones to go online. Data caps and small screens on those devices get in the way of many educational and work opportunities. On the homework gap, see Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin, “Nearly One-in-Five Teens Can’t Always Finish Their Homework Because of the Digital Divide”, Pew Research Center, 26 October 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/26/nearly-one-in-five-teens-cant-always-finish-their-homework-because-of-the-digital-divide/ and Monica Anderson and Madhumitha Kumar, “Digital Divide Persists Even as Lower-income Americans Make Gains in Tech Adoption”, Pew Research Center, 7 May 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/07/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/. Middle and high school students with high-speed Internet access at home have more digital skills, higher grades, and perform better on standardized tests, such as the SAT. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students who cannot access the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone for Internet access do worse in school and are less likely to attend college or university. The deficit in digital skills contributes to lower student interest in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. On this testing gap, see Hampton et al, “Broadband and Student Performance Gaps”, Quello Center, 3 March 2020, http://quello.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Broadband_Gap_Quello_Report_MSU.pdf. For a useful overview of these studies, see Doug Dawson, “The Homework Gap is Not Just a Rural Problem”, POTs and PANs, 22 July 2020, https://bit.ly/2CUWPXJ.

[6]Baller, Jim, et al. “State Restrictions on Community Broadband Services or Other Public Communications Initiatives”. Baller, Stokes & Lide, 2019, p.5, https://bit.ly/2OOBPo1.

[7] Adelstein et al. “Effective Utilization of Dark Fiber: Report and Recommendations Presented to the County Manager and County Board.” Arlington Broadband Advisory Committee. Undated. https://bit.ly/2LoZV7L.

[8] Ibid. According to the Arlington Broadband Advisory Committee’s report, “60% of the 330 [commercial] buildings have no competitive, fiber-based service provider options (i.e., they are only served by Verizon)”.

[9] Ibid. This was a core message of the advisory committee’s report. For more, see Koma, Alex. “Arlington Spent $4.1 Million on a 10-Mile Dark Fiber Network, But No One’s Using It”. ArlNow. 7 February 2019. https://bit.ly/2Rj7FM2 and Kienbaum, Katie. “Arlington Dark Fiber Network at Crossroads, ARLnow Reports”. Community Networks. Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 28 February 2019. https://bit.ly/2rfi7cX

[10]Richard Greenfield. “How the Cable Industry Became a Monopoly”. Fortune. 19 May 2015. https://fortune.com/2015/05/19/cable-industry-becomes-a-monopoly/. See also H. Trostle and Christopher Mitchell. “Profiles of Monopoly: Big Telecom and Cable”. Community Networks, 31 July 2018, https://muninetworks.org/reports/edit-report-profiles-monopoly-big-telecom-and-cable and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, “Fighting Monopoly Power: How States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities”, Community Networks, 21 July 2020, https://muninetworks.org/content/fighting-monopoly-power-how-states-and-cities-can-beat-back-corporate-control-and-build.

[11]”Supports Expanding Community Broadband and Ensuring Affordable, High-Speed Internet for All”. DPVA State Resolutions Package 2020. Undated. pp. 38-39. https://vademocrats.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/DPVAConventionResolutionsFinal2020.pdf. See also, “VADP Adopts Community Broadband Resolution”. ArlFiber. 16 July 2020. https://arlfiber.org/2020/07/16/vadp-adopts-community-broadband-resolution/.

[12] Wendy Davis. “Biden-Sanders Task Force Backs Net Neutrality, Municipal Broadband”. MediaPost. 9 July 2020. https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/353468/biden-sanders-task-force-backs-net-neutrality-mun.html.

[13]Gore, Jeffrey. “Wireless Service Authorities and the The Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act.” Virginia Association of Counties, 2008, https://bit.ly/33czKqJ.

[14] On the Roanoke Broadband Authority, c.f. Gonzalez, Lisa. “Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority: Progress Made, All Indicators Favorable”. Community Networks, 11 December 2018, https://bit.ly/34NhCp0. On the success of the Eastern Shore Broadband Authority, see Trostle, Hannah. “Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority Improves Connectivity.” Community Networks, 16 February 2016, https://bit.ly/38aei9o.

[15]Fogden, Tom. “Why Chattanooga Has the Fastest Internet in the US.” Tech.com, 21 Aug. 2018, https://bit.ly/2rjdKxc. Accessed 1 Nov. 2019; Gonzalez, Lisa. “Munis Make PCMag Fastest ISPs List Again.” Community Networks, 3 July 2019, https://bit.ly/33cnqGZ. Ry Marcattilio-McCracken. “Cedar Falls Utility Tops PCMag Fastest ISPs List.” Community Networks. 23 June 2020. https://muninetworks.org/content/cedar-falls-utility-tops-pcmag-fastest-isps-list.

[16] On using publicly owned networks to bridge the digital divide, especially among school children, c.f. Svitavsky,

Kate. “Wilson’s Greenlight Provides Affordable Internet Access to Public Housing Residents.” Community Networks,

15 Dec. 2016, https://bit.ly/2pKC4Yk.

[17] On using public broadband to preserve net neutrality and privacy, c.f. Schneider, Nathan. “A People-Owned Internet Exists. Here Is What It Looks Like.” The Guardian, 26 July 2017, https://bit.ly/2Db9T8f, and Berman, David Elliot, and Victor Pickard. “Cities and States Take up the Battle for an Open Internet.” The Conversation, 14 Nov. 2019, https://bit.ly/2KP7dRD.

[18]Mat Lawrence et al. “Democratic digital infrastructure.” The Next System Project. 18 May 2020. https://thenextsystem.org/democratic-digital-infrastructure

[19] Leerssen, Paddy and David A. Talbot. “Enabling Competition & Innovation on a City Fiber Network”. Berkman

Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Paper. 2017. https://bit.ly/2DKkHKE. See also,Woodruff, Jay. “The City with the Best Fiber-Optic Network in America Might Surprise You.” Fast Company. 21 October 2019. https://bit.ly/353oT40.

[20] This is explained in the “What is a Broadband Authority” section at “Arlington Broadband Authority”. ArlFiber. Undated. https://arlfiber.org/arlington-broadband-authority/.

[21] Ibid. On the UTOPIA network, see Drew Clark. “UTOPIA Fiber: A Model Open-Access Network”. Broadband Communities Magazine. November/December 2019. https://www.bbcmag.com/community-broadband/utopia-fiber-a-model-open-access-network.. See also, Katie Kienbaum. “Ammon Fiber Optics Declared Consumer Product of the Year in Idaho”. Community Networks. 1 November 2018. https://muninetworks.org/content/ammon-fiber-optics-declared-consumer-product-year-idaho.

[22] Chao, Becky and Lukas Pietrzak. “The Cost of Connectivity in Ammon, Idaho”. New America: Open Technology Institute, 22 January 2020, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/cost-connectivity-ammon-idaho/.

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