This letter is intended to help county taxpayers decide whether or not to support the board of supervisors’ plan for county-wide implementation of a reliable high-speed broadband enterprise. Two questions are at the heart of this issue – should broadband service be considered an entitlement, that is, a civil right, and should any broadband service be government owned and controlled.
On the first question, the county’s plan treats broadband service as an entitlement. The county plans to use tax revenue generated from all county taxpayers to provide service to a relative few who reside in the county’s most rural areas.
To date, the county has earmarked $20 million of taxpayer funds to implement this enterprise, a cost which likely exceeds $400 per taxpayer and funds only the installation cost of the enterprise. (This cost is in addition to state and federal taxes taxpayers have already paid to help fund this enterprise, given as grants to the county.)
Going forward, there will be additional, permanent costs to the taxpayer to fund the operation, maintenance and upgrade of the enterprise and for increased county staff to manage the enterprise and provide customer service. These costs will likely be seen as increases to your county taxes and your broadband service provider fees.
There will be another additional cost to county property owners who already have broadband – the potential devaluation of their property value relative to those properties that don’t now have broadband but will get it at no personal cost if the county’s plan goes forward. To make this point, this paper reported in its three-part series on broadband that the governor’s chief broadband adviser estimated a 4 to 8 percent increase in property value due solely to the addition of broadband.
Similarly, the vice chairman of the county’s broadband advisory committee stated he believed having broadband increased the resale value of his home. And the president of Greater Piedmont Realtors stated that for some buyers, “… (broadband) is a deal-breaking criteria.” Homeowners who already have broadband will see no such increase in property value and will thus lose value compared to properties that will receive a broadband benefit at no cost.
On the second question, government ownership and control of the broadband enterprise should be understood to bring with it, in addition to the ever-increasing taxes and fees to sustain and grow the enterprise, the potential loss of personal choice of internet content, speed and bandwidth, the potential for additional monitoring and regulation, and the need for 24/7 on-demand county services.
In other words, the county’s implementation of the broadband enterprise may not be flexible enough to satisfy a wide range of user preferences, needs and support, and taxpayers will forever have to fund the increasing cost of this enterprise with these new limitations, whether they choose to use the service or not. Compare this government business model to a private sector solution, like your cellular service, where individuals contract separately with service providers for the level of service they want for any purpose at any time, if they want any at all, without having to pay county taxes and fees to fund the service.
I submit that broadband is a user choice, not a county entitlement. It is an individual issue, not a county issue. Each of us should have the choice to obtain our own broadband service based on our own individual needs, just as we do with other individual issues, like cellular service, or buying a home that has a great view from a backyard deck, or has a swimming pool, or has broadband. If a property owner wants these things, they should go to where these are available or afford it themselves, instead of asking fellow county taxpayers to provide them.
To summarize, Fauquier County is going down the path of implementing a taxpayer-funded, government-owned and -controlled broadband enterprise for the primary purpose of serving a relatively small rural population who do not now have it. All county taxpayers will be forced to pay for the county’s plan to implement this broadband enterprise, including installation, operation, maintenance and upgrade, additional county staff to manage and service the enterprise, and for some, to absorb a potential loss in real estate value.
Taken all together, one can expect these costs to grow into the thousands of dollars per taxpayer and to continue to increase over time. Instead, private sector broadband service providers would continue to provide user funded services with no taxpayer funding needed. As a county taxpayer and property owner, I feel taken advantage of by my county government when they ask me to pay for what I believe should be an individual issue, not a county issue. I do not support the investment of county taxpayer funds to implement the board of supervisors’ plan of “Broadband For All.”