We have great news!
Based on conversations with Arlington County Board members this summer, the Board and County Manager decided this fall to use leftover ARPA funds to increase the amount of funding for the broadband study (that was initially included in the 2022 budget) by $150,000 [pdf – p. 10], bringing the total allotment to $200,000. The scope and goals of the study have likewise been refined to better match the U.S. Treasury Department’s guidelines for ARPA local recovery funds spent on broadband infrastructure. Here is the summary in the budget document:
Broadband Study (one-time): $150,000 in FY 2023
The Broadband Study presents an opportunity for Arlington to lay groundwork for broadband investments and develop a broader framework in setting long-term policy goals. Arlington plans to engage a third-party consultant to conduct a thorough needs assessment that evaluates the County’s available broadband resources and their ability to meet existing and future resident and business needs. A second component is a case study comparison of several internet delivery models that considers leveraging the County’s middle-mile network, appropriate technology applications, and high-level costs. A final component would offer a more detailed feasibility evaluation of the selected internet delivery model.
The County’s Department of Technology Services and the Purchasing Office are currently working to create an RFP that will be subjected to public and vendor community input. We have been told that ArlFiber’s criteria [pdf] for the RFP will be taken into consideration. We will keep you updated as we get more information.
Given the guidelines coming from Treasury on the ARPA Capital Projects Fund and the Congress’ recently passed infrastructure bill, there should be opportunities for Arlington to leverage an array of funds for meaningful community broadband projects.
In addition to that news, we wanted to inform you that the Arlington Civic Federation is hosting a panel discussion on whether to form a broadband authority for Arlington. ArlFiber’s Tim Dempsey will be a participant.
We urge all of you to sign up and come ask questions.
Click here to register. [Copy and paste this link if the hyper text does not work: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAkcOGqqzgpHtOMvXBEGqyjdbi03fk2TLyX ].
Here are the details from the CivFed flyer:
Considering an Arlington Broadband Authority
Internet access has become increasingly essential to modern life. During the pandemic, almost overnight, more residents needed good access to work from home, students required good access to participate in virtual learning, and the government needed better internet connections with both government facilities (particularly schools) and to private-sector partners.
Arlington is a highly digital community with extensive private sector network services and infrastructure. In addition, as one of the few municipalities to own its own dark fiber network, Arlington seemed better positioned for rapid expansion of some network services. Many of our residents were able to transition to work from home and school from home seamlessly due to the robust broadband service most of our residents use. Through public-private partnerships, APS and the County were able to connect ALL students so they could continue their learning on-line. However, there are still residents who have not adopted broadband service at home for a variety of reasons and there have been challenges to expanding connections.
In 2020 Arlfiber, a recently established group that lobbies for broadband access, met with the County Manager Schwartz and proposed to expand Arlington’s limited dark fiber backbone, ConnectArlington, to create a publicly owned fiber-to-home network. After more discussion, the County 2022 budget approved funding for a feasibility study of $50,000, subsequently raised to $200,000. Arlington staff is currently working on the request for proposal (RFP) for the study. The next step is more extended public discussion and consideration of the options.
At the December 14 Civic Federation meeting, the Public Services Committee will host a panel to provide context and perspectives on the key issues. Should Arlington create a public Broadband Authority? What needs would it fulfill that cannot be accomplished now? What risks should we consider? What should be the primary mission and scope? What is the extent of underserved? What are the financing options and associated costs and who will pay those costs? Who will have accountability for building and maintaining the infrastructure and providing customer services? What are other alternatives? What is the most cost-effective way to fill these needs and mission?
Panelists will include:
- Jack Belcher, Chief Technology Innovation Officer / Director Department of Technology Services. Mr. Belcher will provide the Arlington digital context for the Arlington Broadband including scope of needs such as underserved and assets such as the County-owned broadband fiber optic network, ConnectArlington.
- Tim Dempsey, the Arlfiber Collective. Mr. Dempsey will provide an overview of the Arlfiber proposal and the benefits they see for creating an Arlington Broadband Authority.
- Ray LaMura, Broadband Association of Virginia (VCTA), President. Mr. Lamura will provide the perspective of current internet providers and the state and Arlington-level context for establishing a Broadband Authority or other public-private options to address services including cost and access for the underserved.
Following the panel, there will be Q and A from Public Services and from members in the Chat. Mike McMenamin will moderate the panel on behalf of the CivFed Public Services Committee.
If you would like to submit questions in advance, please send them to public.services.chair[at]civfed[dot]org