Broadband authority faces unclear future

After five years of work, the future of the Louisa County Broadband Authority is uncertain. 

The group has not decided whether to ask the Louisa County Board of Supervisors for funding to continue its activities. Most of the $1.1 million the board granted to the authority in 2015 has been spent on five wireless towers and equipment on two public safety towers.

Two members resigned from the authority recently, including Bernie Hill, the former vice chairman. Hill stepped down the day after he lost his race for the Jackson District seat on the board of supervisors to incumbent Toni Williams.

“The broadband authority is a misnomer,” Hill said. “We have no authority.”

He said the most frustrating thing about his term on the authority was that the project for a tower in his own district never got off the ground. 

Williams and Hill made the broadband authority’s efforts the focus of their election campaigns. Williams argued the authority had wasted taxpayers’ money by building wireless towers rather than fiber-optic lines. Hill, and other authority members, supported wireless as a more affordable and practical option. But the authority has shifted its focus somewhat to fiber in the past year.

Ed Jarvis, current authority chairman and Mineral district representative, said the group was careful during recent meetings not to appear to take a position one way or the other.

“We didn’t want to politicize [our work],” he said. “I think we should hold off until we have a definite plan to put in front of them.”

When Louisa County Public Schools installed fiber-optic lines this year to connect the six school buildings, the county added additional fiber for future use. Fiber was recently installed in the Louisa County Industrial Air Park to serve businesses there. The county could work with private vendors to link the fiber lines to nearby homes in the future, though there is no plan to do so at this time.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry district) told the authority at its Nov. 6 meeting that if members wants more money, they need to make a request before county budget talks start in January.

The lack of clarity about the authority’s future is also making it difficult to recruit new members, said Supervisor Bob Babyok (Green Springs district). His appointee, Jeff Zivick, recently resigned from the authority and moved out of state.