Experts Oppose Byron's HB 2108 In VA

Private sector companies, trade organizations, and local authority advocacy groups went on record last week in opposition to HB 2108, a Virginia bill that would severely restrict local communities’ options to improve connectivity. They joined together in a letter to the Chairman of the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee, there the bill is now waiting for hearing, Republican Terry J. Kilgore.

Joining Local Communities To Oppose

A number of local governments have already passed resolutions condemning the legislative attack on their right to make local telecommunications decisions and we expect to see more. Del. Kathy Byron, a legislative darling of big cable and DSL providers in Virginia, introduce the bill earlier this month. Local and national media outlets immediately caught the story, and constituents have contacted Byron's office to express their concern. 

This letter from leaders in the industry underscored their concern that potential partners feel the bill is a death knell for public-private partnerships:

It would interfere with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers. It would deny private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they could offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. It would also impair economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit. 

The authors of the letter find the slow speeds required in the bill especially troubling for rural communities. The bill sets the standards at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload - speeds reminiscent of antiquated DSL:

Communities with data speeds limited to the HB 2108 target of 10/1 megabits cannot realistically hope to attract or retain modern businesses or provide their residents, particularly their young people, a reason to stay in them. These communities will be condemned to economic stagnation or worse – like the “ghost towns” that died a century ago for lack of adequate electricity. 

No Bottlenecks

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The letter stresses the importance of local authority, noting that communities where national providers have no economic motivation to invest in sparsely populated areas, they should have the ability to chart their own course. They also note that barriers such as HB 2108 slow down innovation, economic growth, and competitiveness in rural areas.

Decisions at the local level include whether or not to engage in public-private partnerships, work with existing providers, or turn to new market entrants. Only those who live and work in a community know what decisions are best for its prosperity:

These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that their duly elected and accountable local officials ordinarily use for making comparable decisions. They should also be able to use their own resources as they deem appropriate to foster economic development, educational opportunity, public safety, and much more, without having to comply with the bottlenecks that HB 2108 would impose. 

The letter asks that the Committee Chair and its members do not pass HB 2108, or any amendment or any other measure that could negatively impact community broadband development or potential public-private partnerships.

Signing on to the letter:

  • Atlantic Engineering
  • Coalition for Local Internet Choice
  • CTC Energy & Technology
  • Fiber to the Home Council
  • Google
  • Indeed
  • Internet Association
  • National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
  • Netflix 
  • Next Century Cities
  • Nokia
  • OnTrac
  • Telecommunications Industry Association 
  • Ting Internet 
  • Utilities Technology Council

View the letter here.