The United States’ first chief technology officer has been a champion of rural broadband, and will likely continue to be, but it’s unclear exactly how his experiences driving broadband availability at the state level will manifest on the national stage.
It’s hard to describe broadband’s importance more seriously than Chopra does. Pushing for rural telemedicine in his state, he once remarked, “People are literally dying because they can’t get the broadband they need to run the software.”
Virginia has been able to invest greatly in building out its broadband infrastructure by using funds from a 1998 class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry to secure federal loans for broadband deployment. Part of that money was used to build an open-access regional fiber network, the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative. ISPs, major telcos and small independent carriers pay a one-time fee of $500 to use the network, which some of them do to support broaband and IPTV delivery. Watching Mid-Atlantic grow may have taught the new CTO much about the potential for public-private partnerships in broadband and the potential effectiveness of open-access networks.
Virginia has long been at the cutting edge of the debate over the proper role of government in telecom. Shortly after the turn of the century, legal challenges over municipal broadband initiatives there rose to the state level. One of the towns that helped spark that battle, Bristol, still serves as a model of municipal broadband. And another city, Manassas, still maintains a municipal broadband-over-powerline network.