A project seeking to install an open-access network in the area has been stalled. Local governments cannot agree on funding or the role that they should play in supporting what some think is an effort best handled by the private sector.
The $8.2 million project would install inexpensive fiber optic cable in the greater Roanoke area, located in the center of the state of Virginia. Even though the project falls under the umbrella of a multi-jurisdictional entity known as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, these jurisdictions disagree over aspects of the proposed network. One possible factor may be the existence of independent cities within Roanoke County.
An independent city is one that is not part of a county, even though it may be physically located within a county’s boundaries. The cities of Roanoke and Salem are independent cities within Roanoke County. Adding to the confusion is that independent cities can still serve as county seats, which is the case of Salem, the seat of Roanoke County.
The overwhelming majority of independent cities (41 out of 44) in the U.S. are located in Virginia, thanks to the state’s post-Civil War constitution, which encouraged their creation. St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland and Carson City, Nevada are the other independent cities located in the U.S outside Virginia.
The cities of Roanoke and Salem are willing to contribute about one-fourth of the project’s funds. The problem is that Roanoke County is reluctant to jump in. According to the Roanoke Times, Roanoke County administrator Clay Goodman has concerns about the cost and whether or not the county government should be in the broadband business.
If Roanoke County and neighboring Botetourt County do not ultimately decide to be a part of the new project, the most likely outcome is that the cities of Roanoke and Salem would work together on creating a smaller network within their boundaries. Supporters of the network feel the best outcome is to install the entire network as proposed because it would then be linked to major Internet gateways along the East Coast.
The conflict in the greater Roanoke area over the proposed broadband project is an example of the many growing pains that communities will experience with building technology infrastructure.
The difference between different regions of the U.S. adds to the complexity of the situation. The same project that would work well in Alabama probably would not work well in California and apparently not in Virginia either. Every area has a solution that best suits their needs. Hopefully the process in finding that solution does not leave the surrounding community under served in the meantime.
Edited by Adam Brandt