A little more than a week ago, I had the honor of presenting an update on the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority’s (RVBA) progress to the Governor’s Broadband Advisory Council. Doing so gave our entire team the opportunity to reflect on all our region has accomplished over the last few years. The results are dramatic.
It’s easy to get sucked into the priorities of each day and neglect to look at the big picture, but this presentation gave me the opportunity to do just that. I want to share some of these highlights as I believe these accomplishments are a testament to our broader community strength.
Let me start at the beginning. A little less than five years ago, before the founding of the RVBA, an independent study found that only 8 percent of our region had access fiber (compared to a 24 percent national benchmark). Only 11 percent of the region could choose from more than two ISP options (compare to a national average of 55 percent), and only 4.5 percent of the region could access speeds of 1Gbps or faster (compare to the 50 percent standard in more fiber-rich communities such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, which had just risen as America’s Gig City). You’ve probably heard of the digital divide? Our region was falling squarely into the middle of the void — without the benefit of alluring population statistics or rural coverage incentive programs, we had a serious problem.
Flash forward a few short years, insert committed business leaders, proactive local government officials, a clear vision and a collaborative community spirit, and now, I’m pleased to report that our situation is very different. The Roanoke Valley has a world-class, open-access, fiber optic internet network and serves as a national model for how municipal broadband authorities can help bring better speeds, access and affordability to underserved regions, regardless of population density.
As a not-for-profit political subdivision authorized under the Virginia Wireless Authority Services Act, RVBA operates with a mission focus on regional economic development, opportunity creation, and community competitiveness. All of our service fees go back into the cost of building, operating and improving our community’s technology infrastructure.
The RVBA improves access and service options for local businesses, nonprofits and government customers; lowers barriers to market entry for new providers who want to serve our region as private businesses; and offers a competitive wedge that helps keep all regional prices from overinflating.
Since 2016, the RVBA has built an 80-mile, 100 percent fiber optic regional network with Department of Defense grade JTIC Certified Equipment. We are directly serving some of the region’s top technical employers, including GE Digital, Eldor, Virginia Western Community College and RDG Filings and, perhaps most importantly, we are partnering with multiple new and incumbent last-mile internet service providers to bring higher quality, higher speed internet service options to residential, business and public-sector customers.
We are financially sound and fully transparent in our performance reporting. We hold ourselves to industry-leading 99.999 uptime standards and have built-in system redundancy, automatic rerouting and local and national operations center monitoring to ensure our service is best in class and always available. We hold regular public board of director meetings and are committed to ensuring all Roanoke Valley citizens have insight into what we are doing and why and how it benefits them. This is a community project designed to benefit each of you.
Together, we are making a difference. Since the RVBA was founded, commercial internet and data transport service prices in the region have dropped as much as 30 percent; more providers are available to service public, private and residential customers; and Roanoke Valley businesses across all four of our member communities are reporting more service options than ever, allowing them to grow, thrive and compete locally, nationally and internationally.
There is still much work to be done, but we are on the right path. I want to applaud and thank each of you for being part of a movement that is making a difference in our community, catching the the attention of national thought leaders and serving as an example for other communities that are still struggling with issues of digital inequality.
If you want to know more, our website (www.rvba.online) is a great place to start, and, of course, as a public servant my door is always open.