For those of you who weren’t able to attend this past Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, you missed one of the most entertaining meetings in years Where according to our local paper, the Central Virginian, in a “hotly contested 4-3” vote, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract to build six wireless towers and two co-locations which would extend high-speed internet service across the county.
The six towers and two co-locations approved by the board of supervisors, together with a seventh proposed tower at Twin Oaks Community, for broadband internet service in the shaded areas on the map.
Well that’s certainly one way to characterize it, although like most of their stories, they got most of the basic facts correct, yet somehow managed to overlook the nuances and background details which turned this meeting into an exercise in Kabuki theater. Starting with the public comments period, where constituents spoke for the Broadband project and against it.
Where they minimized the fact that there were twice as many people speaking for the Broadband project as were against it, and that several of those speaking against it appeared to be reading from the same script. Particularly Jim Ogg and Supervisor elect Duane Adams who did everything they could to inject ambiguity into the discussion.
Starting with Ogg’s misleading claims about the uncertainty of the future of Broadband in light of the FCC's recent ruling against Net Neutrality, along with unsubstantiated claims that wireless technology is not "robust" enough to meet customer’s bandwidth needs, and finally ending with asking the board to take a "pause" before making their decision.
Although for outright chutzpah, Duane Adams claims that the Board approving the towers now, rather than until next year, when he would be sworn in amounted to making "political" decision” is a whopper which will be hard to top. Perhaps expecting the Board and the public to forget that’s exactly what happened during their December 2015 meeting when the Board was discussing whether to fund the Broadband project.
Where they voted to “postpone” making that decision until January 2016, where presumably the addition of newly elected supervisor Tony Williams would alter the outcome of their vote. A decision which incidentally went 5-2 for approving $1.1 million for the Broadband towers, with Wade and Williams voting against it.
During the public comments period, John Koren, who like Mr. Ogg spent his career working in telecommunications, pointed out that the “technical problems” being raised by Ogg were nothing more than red herrings, since the wireless technology which this Broadband project is based on is constantly changing, and claims which might have been accurate several years ago, no longer apply today.
According the Central Virginian the decision by the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative to provide broadband internet directly to its customers somehow threw the supervisors a curveball, and caused one supervisor who had previously supported the broadband authority’s efforts, Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road), to vote no.
A claim which if one was being extremely charitable should be called disingenuous, since the CV has printed several articles starting in February of this year outlining CVEC’s plans, with specific details of their plans appearing in their December 7th issue.
Information which Barlow and all of the Board members should have been well aware of before their December 18th vote, not to mention that this topic was addressed in detail by the Broadband Authority. Making Barlow’s claim that “I want to give us time to evaluate the new stuff that has come up,” nothing more than a craven refusal to make a decision.
And it's one of the defining characteristics of how the Louisa Board of Supervisors has been operating for years.
A topic which Melvin Burruss, a member of the Louisa County Broadband Authority indirectly brought up during the public comment period, saying that “to keep kicking it [making a decision] down the road is nonsense.” And given Barlow’s history of asking questions which are so out in left field at board meetings, it’s a strong indication that at a minimum he doesn’t bother to read the information packets that are given to him at every meeting, and at worse chooses to be willfully ignorant.
But the true masters of deflection and distraction at this meeting, were Supervisors Wade and Williams, who during the subsequent presentation by the Broadband Authority on the status of the project, went out of their way to raise “concerns,” and make numerous apples to oranges comparisons disguised as hard questions.
And despite presenting a comprehensive review of the project and the current state of Broadband in Louisa County, along with being prepared for a wide range of what most people would consider “reasonable” questions, it was striking how much difficultly the two Broadband authority members, Garth Wermter and Mary Johnson, along with the consultant from Wide Open Networks had with answering obvious "gotcha questions," from Williams and Wade, who from all appearances were determined to derail this vote.
A dynamic which remains a concern for the citizens of Louisa County as this project moves forward. Especially with Duane Adams joining the Board next month, and who will likely be joining Wade and Williams in looking for any excuse to "justify" why this project is a bad idea as the roll out of the towers proceeds.
What the Central Virginian has chosen not to pursue in their coverage of this issue is the easily verifiable fact that during the recently concluded election that Duane Adams was heavily backed by State Senator Bryce "AFP" Reeves. And that delaying and denying the implementation of Broadband in localities is one of the telecoms, along with American’s for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) priorities.
Nor would it be unreasonable to anticipate that any future "objections" we hear from these Board members will closely mirror those groups talking points. And with Supervisor Barlow swinging like a weather vane in the wind, it's quite likely that we could see the Board of Supervisors united 4-3 against the Broadband project next year.
Should that prove to be the case, expect them to attempt to slow walk the project by delaying funding for equipment which goes on the towers, and usage permits for the towers & downstream poles. And as the data comes back from the implementation of these Broadband services, lodge a barrage of objections to everything from number of customers served to questioning the quality of service.