To the Editor:
In last month’s Louisa County Broadband Authority meeting, new information was revealed about the project to construct taxpayer-funded towers across the county to provide line-of-sight internet.
First, the authority has spent most of the $1.09 million they requested and were granted by the board of supervisors. With these funds they’ve constructed four towers, with a plan for another. However, these five towers only meet half of the original plan for ten. While the authority has made up for this in part by colocating on private towers, there are a number of areas which will remain underserved.
This is emblematic of the issues encountered when government attempts to intervene in markets where it has no business. County staff is not composed of the types of information technology experts that would be necessary to administer a large-scale connectivity project. However, that’s who ultimately is directing this project.
When Verizon rolls out a large-scale project, they don’t assemble a group of volunteers who meet once a month to develop and implement the plan, they are equipped – unlike local governments – to employ the necessary experts required for the task.
Further, government does not have a profit motive, meaning it is less relevant whether a positive return on investment is achieved. While you may think it’s better that the county is not concerned with profit, profit only occurs when you provide a desirable product at an efficient cost. Louisa taxpayers paid for 10 towers; they are receiving five. When your organization is basically immune to bankruptcy, there is little motivation to fight for every penny to ensure your projects are completed on budget and on time.
This issue has once again become relevant in our local elections. Toni Williams, the Republican candidate for re-election to the Jackson District seat on the board of supervisors, has been critical of this project for many of the above reasons. However, since its approval, his board has fulfilled each request made by the broadband authority in an attempt to ensure the taxpayers receive the product for which they have paid.
Concurrently, he has worked with electric utilities and federal grants to run 31 miles of fiber-optic lines, a real future-proof solution to broadband, and brought 1,300 fiber connections to the county.
His opponent, Bernie Hill, a member of the broadband authority, has leveled several accusations concerning Supervisor Williams’s record which were unequivocally contradicted by county staff at a recent authority meeting. Contrary to Hill’s claim, absolutely no funds were removed from the tower project budget. Additionally, county staff clarified that it is the authority, not the board, who are the primary administrators of the tower project and its budget despite Hill’s attempts to deflect blame for its shortcomings onto the board.
Finally, Hill criticized the failure to locate a tower in the Bumpass area. However, according to county staff per the July authority draft minutes, “the authority has chosen not to put [a tower] in [the] area due to funding,” clarifying once again that this was the responsibility of the authority and a result of their project exceeding its budget.
As a member of the broadband authority, Hill has no excuse for not knowing the details of its actions. As a candidate for public office, he should be held to a higher standard when disseminating information regarding public policy. I believe his lack of knowledge regarding the one issue he claimed to have expertise on is an indictment of his qualifications for office.