Rick Kizer says he should have been able to work from his home in King William County years ago, instead of driving 45 minutes to his job as an information technology specialist at a bank just north of Richmond.
But he could not, because the satellite service to his home near Aylett could not support the telecommunication needs of the job, such as tapping into a reliable virtual private network or videoconferencing.
Now retired, Kizer has been waiting for the promised extension of high-speed internet, via the flood of new federal money since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to close the digital divide between urban and suburban areas that have access to broadband networks and rural areas that do not.
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So he was surprised to see that the Federal Communications Commission, in a map crucial to guiding government investments in broadband networks, indicates his home is already served.
Its a total farce, Kizer said in frustration on Thursday.
The intentions are good and the money is there, but competing government initiatives to fill the gaps in rural broadband coverage are not sending a clear signal to people still waiting for reliable high-speed internet service to reach them.
As it turns out, Kizer and his neighbors are slated to get broadband access under an existing program run by the FCC which correctly shows his residence as unserved on that map.
Other parts of King William expect service from another internet provider under a separate grant program funded by the state and the county, largely using federal money from an emergency package that Congress passed during the pandemic, when internet access became a necessity for work and study.
The FCC maps are kind of wonky, acknowledged Steve Hudgins, deputy county administrator in King William, who oversees county efforts to expand broadband service.
What is reliable broadband service?
Expectations are high among King William residents who have heard about the $1.5 billion that the state is due to receive from the federal government through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed more than 18 months ago.
The first step for Virginia to receive the money is to verify the accuracy of the FCC maps through a validation process conducted by the state.
As part of that process, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development will have to define what reliable broadband service means, based on the processing speed and data capacity of the networks.
That is where Kizer dropped off the map.
The FCC map defines a minimum level of high-speed internet at 25 megabits per second (mbps) to download and 3 megabits per second to upload the speed of the satellite network that serves his home. Its ridiculous for them to say that satellite is equal to broadband, he said. Its not even close.
It is also not the definition that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use to distribute $42.5 billion in new infrastructure funding for broadband, including the $1.5 billion for Virginia.
Satellite is not in the definition of reliable broadband service, said Evan Feinman, director of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, which is running the federal initiative.
Feinman knows Virginias internet needs well as former broadband adviser to then-Gov. Ralph Northam. It is up to the state to get every one of these locations served so they can draw down the $1.5 billion, he said. We wont accept less.
Virginia says it is well-positioned for the grant.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin changed the definition after taking office last year, raising the standard to 100/20 mbps, so the state is using the same measure as the federal BEAD program in determining where to spend the new infrastructure money.
Virginia developed its own map, Commonwealth Connection, and is funding broadband projects across the state through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative.
Tamarah Holmes, director of the broadband office at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said the FCC map is only a general guide to internet services provided through a variety of technologies, based on information from internet providers.
This year, Virginia challenged 1.9 million claims of broadband service on the FCC map because of discrepancies with the state map, the absence of residences that could be served only by expensive fiber-optic line extensions and duplicative claims by different providers.
The states challenges identified 70,000 locations that flipped from being marked as served to unserved, making them eligible for assistance.
The FCC accepted 100%, Holmes said.
The accuracy of the FCC maps and the definitions that guide them has been a big concern of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a former telecommunications executive who pushed hard for federal funding of broadband in the infrastructure law and other federal funding packages during the pandemic. Earlier this year, he conducted a public campaign to encourage people to look at the maps to verify if they were accurate.
While the new broadband maps are certainly an improvement over the old, census-tract level maps, they are far from perfect, Warner said last week. Thats why I have repeatedly encouraged Virginians to take advantage of the challenge process if they believe the level of service available to them according to the maps is inaccurate.
The FCC regularly updates the maps based on the outcome of challenges, he said. These updates will allow Virginia to make the most of the federal funding coming our way, directing it to areas where its most needed.
The FCC acknowledges that other federal programs do not accept its definition of minimum high-speed internet service. Its maps include a filter that allows people to change the definition of service, which may show a residence as unserved instead of served.
People who think the map is wrong can submit challenges at the FCC website.
Any challenges resolved and upheld should be reflected on the current map, an FCC spokesperson said.
The fact that the Virginia Broadband map incorrectly identifies my home as already being served by a broadband connection is alarming, he said in an email on Thursday. My hope is that the people involved in the validation process will include the different broadband vendors that service the citizens of Virginia.
After all, they are the source of the information that the Federal and State broadband departments are using for their maps, he said. The key here is to go to the source for accurate information.
What the hell is going on here?
The state said it could not include Kizers residence for possible use of the new federal dollars because it is already covered by the Rural Development Opportunity Fund, run by the FCC.
Under that program, Breezeline is already providing broadband service to part of northern King William, including homes on the other side of Route 600 from Kizer. The company is supposed to expand the project to include him and other neighbors who currently have only satellite service as an option.
Hudgins, the deputy county administrator, does not know when that will happen. They have their own set of rules about when they bring it, he said.
King William signed an agreement in August with All Points Broadband to provide high-speed internet to the rest of the county through a grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, as well as contributions from the county and the company. Both projects are working with Dominion Energy and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to install fiber-optic cable along electric utility rights of way.
The two projects are supposed to cover the entire county, but Holmes, at the state broadband office, said there may be an opportunity to fill holes (in coverage) in King William when Virginia receives the new infrastructure money.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, whose congressional district includes King William, acknowledged the challenge of both accurate mapping and coordination of different broadband initiatives.
While broadband funding is awarded through various programs, there should be a more coordinated effort in awarding these funds to mitigate fragmentation and overlapping, he said in a statement on Friday. With the various sources of federal and local funding, I understand it can be difficult to find the resources to address lapses in broadband service.
Kizer wonders how all of that money ultimately will be used.
It just begs the question, what the hell is going on here? he said.
From the archives: Cloverleaf Mall, 1972-2011
Cloverleaf Mall: Before the opening
Cloverleaf Mall: Opening day, 1972
Cloverleaf Mall: Busy first week
Cloverleaf Mall: Upscale Sears
Cloverleaf Mall: Twin cinema
Cloverleaf Mall: Piccadilly Cafeteria
Cloverleaf Mall in 1975
Cloverleaf Mall Community Room
Cloverleaf Mall: Christmas Tubas, 1985
Cloverleaf Mall: 1987 renovation
Cloverleaf Mall: Christmas Eve, 1990
Cloverleaf Mall: 1995 fire
Cloverleaf Mall: Frederick’s of Hollywood
Cloverleaf Mall: Christmas, 1997
Cloverleaf Mall: 1998 renovation
Cloverleaf Mall: New police station, 1999
Cloverleaf Mall: Regal cinemas close, 2001
Cloverleaf Mall: Sears closes, 2003
Cloverleaf Mall: Empty food court, 2005
County buys Cloverleaf Mall, 2007
Cloverleaf Mall sold to county, 2007
Cloverleaf Mall: One last shop
Cloverleaf Mall: Closing in 2008
Cloverleaf Mall: Fenced off in 2010
Cloverleaf Mall: The walls come down, 2011
Goodbye Cloverleaf, 2011
Kroger rises from rubble of Cloverleaf, 2012
#Thinking #reliable #highspeed #internet #21st #century #easy #Virginia
Image Source : richmond.com