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The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the many perils and injustices created by the digital divide in the United States. This divide is largely attributable to our reliance on highly monopolized markets to provide internet access based solely on the consideration of super profits and shareholder returns. We need a public option that will at once affirm the principle that the internet is a vital utility worthy of public investment and control while creating actual competition and innovation to bring affordable high-speed internet to all residents and businesses currently unserved or underserved by the incumbent telecommunications corporations operating here in Arlington.

In the early 2010s, Arlington County made the decision to break from its longstanding relationship with Comcast due to dissatisfaction over the costs and quality of their service. It then constructed its own network to provide internet access to all publicly owned buildings. By all accounts, the ConnectArlington network provides far better service than Comcast ever did and has already paid for itself. Despite that, when the pandemic hit, Arlington County was forced to pay $500,000 to Comcast to provide free internet service to low-income families because Virginia telecommunications laws bar the County from using its own network to do this itself. And who is responsible for those laws? Comcast (and the other big telecoms), of course.

Despite certain misconceptions about legal constraints on municipal broadband in Virginia, Arlington does have a way around this problem, which is to form a broadband authority under The Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act (VWSAA) and create an open access network that connects to all buildings and residences in the county. Multiple cities and counties in Virginia have already taken this route, the most successful examples being the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA). An Arlington broadband authority could build a county-wide fiber-to-the-home network that is publicly owned and operated, but uses software defined networks to have private ISPs compete to provide low-cost, high-speed service – a model that was pioneered in Ammon, ID and has been highly successful.

Therefore, we the undersigned urge you to act swiftly to form a broadband authority for Arlington County under the powers granted to counties, cities and towns in Virginia by The Virginia Wireless Service Authority Act. Further, we urge that this broadband authority be used to create an open access network that provides fiber-to-the-premises connections for residences and businesses on an opt-in basis throughout Arlington, incorporating the best practices of the existing broadband authorities here in VA and pioneering models like the municipal network in Ammon in Idaho.