Wednesday, January 18, 2017
First do no harm
Hold onto your wallets, the General Assembly is back in session.
According to Wikipedia, the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World. In January of each year, the 100-member House of Delegates and 40-member state senate convene in Richmond to conduct the business of the Commonwealth. The GA meets for 45 days in odd-numbered years, and 60 days in even-numbered years.
As Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities, like Goochland County, have only those powers specifically ceded to them by the state. Keeping an eye on the shenanigans in Richmond is vital to prevent the local ship of state from being swamped by the good intentions of legislators.
The number of bills filed each is staggering. See http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?171+lst+ALL+HJ0614 for a list of this year’s offerings. Topics range from benign commendations for a person or group to more serious issues including taxation, and life-and-death situations.
Goochland tries to work closely with its GA representatives: Delegates Lee Ware, Peter Farrell, and newly elected senator Mark Peake, to see that its interests are represented and protected in the legislature. Only Ware, a former Powhatan County supervisor, has local government experience and knows first-hand what happens when poorly crafted legislation rolls downhill to localities.
In past years, Goochland has been fortunate to have our delegation sponsor bills helpful on the local front. This year, the county’s legislative agenda, positions on issues, is more policy oriented and defensive.
Like many other rural jurisdictions, Goochland is always searching for ways to expand broadband coverage across the county.
HB 2108, a bill currently in the legislative hopper, requires localities to jump through a series of state mandated hoops before owning, operating, or leasing any system to provide broadband. Lynchburg area Delegate Kathy Byron, Chief Patron of the bill, contends that its intent is to protect localities from wasting tax dollars on systems better left to the private sector. Detractors claim it only protects current providers from competition. This illustrates the sinister irony of the phrase “we’re from the government, we’re here to help you.”
A new website http://www.friendsofmunicipalbroadband.com/ includes a host of articles exploring the consequences of the bill.
Excerpts from a letter sent to Byron by a resident of western Goochland made the following points: “I write to you as chief patron of House Bill 2108 - Virginia Broadband Deployment Act. I am a resident of Goochland County, and a lack of broadband in certain parts of our county limits families' and businesses' desires to move here - resulting in significant opportunity costs for growth and economic development.
My husband and I both presently work for the Commonwealth in two different agencies, and we both utilize telework options to ameliorate the challenges of a long commute and raising a young family of three children age 5 and under. Prior to working for the Commonwealth, I started and operated a research consulting business out of my home. We have internet access through a cell phone provider on wireless cards, and while sufficient for basic needs, we cannot fully utilize what the internet has to offer, the service is expensive, and there are data limits.
We are grateful to have what we have - although we are always investigating any promise of new options - only to have our hopes dashed repeatedly about the viability of broadband companies investing here. And truthfully, we can afford the services we need to get by. That said, many in my community - and around the Commonwealth - are not as well-positioned as we are to incur the expense.
This is why I take biggest issue with your legislation: Even if internet is available, it does not necessarily make it accessible or affordable to all who need it. And I do not believe it is the state's role to limit the potential opportunities a locality might seek to provide for its citizens - in the names of safeguarding corporate profits. I believe - and I am raising my children to see that what's best for all citizens trumps what's best for a select few with privilege….”
She cited the comment made by Dr. James Lane, former superintendent of Goochland Schools, that the “digital divide” separating those with and without affordable access to broadband is “the civil rights issue of our time.”
A communication to the Goochland GA delegation from District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr., who has spearheaded efforts to expand broadband coverage, included the following comments: “We (Goochland County) have no plans to get into the broadband business; however, we are looking at the possibility of partnering with a provider and I think that HB2108 will insert some unnecessary roadblocks. If the cable companies want to expand business in Goochland nobody is stopping them. In fact, I could not encourage them more. They should not keep others or the locality from leveraging infrastructure to connect more citizens. I think this bill is unnecessary and I hope it never comes out of committee. “
According to Alvarez, Ware has said he will not vote for the bill. The views of Farrell and Peake are unknown. However, during a candidate forum in Goochland a few days before the special election that put him into office on January 10, Peake displayed astonishing ignorance of the value of broadband for economic development and in education when he said that “the state should not pay for people’s entertainment.”
Susan Sili, a Caroline County freelance journalist further discusses the proposed legislation on conservative website Bearing Drift: https://bearingdrift.com/2017/01/17/war-local-government-update-proposed-legislation-virginia-cable-industry/
Stifling innovation and competition in localities looking for ways to expand broadband coverage is a bad idea. HB 2108 seems designed to protect the telecommunications companies that have most of the business, not citizens.
Goochland representatives are : Peter Farrell DelPeFarrell@house.virginia.gov; Lee Ware DellWare@house.virginia.gov; and Mark Peake firstname.lastname@example.org.