On July 18, the Jefferson County Commission approved a broadband planning team. The team will use a grant totaling $75,000 to study how to improve broadband service in Jefferson County.
That’s the good news. The very, very bad news is that the team does not include a single residential customer. This is unacceptable.
Residential customers – I am one – have been complaining for years to the JCC, to the state Public Service Commission and to the courts that we are paying top dollar for speeds way below the state’s minimum standards.
The problem is particularly bad for those of us living in rural parts of the county where service is provided by outdated technology.
The broadband team is a hodgepodge of appointees. It is dominated by staff which is fine if it a technical advisory group. But two county commissioners are also part of the team. Then during the meeting of July 18, the commission agreed that someone was needed to represent business interests so they appointed a representative from the Jefferson County Development Authority.
When Commissioner Ralph Lorenzetti suggested a consumer representative should also be included, no one agreed.
The result is a broadband team that is an internal, inside group that excludes representation of beleaguered residential customers who are paying top dollar for substandard service.
I expressed my disappointment during public comment to the JCC on Aug. 2, I noted the first meeting of the Broadband Team is during the day – at 10:30 am on Aug. 13 in the county commission meeting room – which in not suitable for those who have jobs. The agenda includes election of a chair, an outline of tasks and at the end of the agenda is “public comment.” One agenda item is identifying “potential broadband champions.” Without any residential customers on the team, I doubt this will be very successful.
If the county commissioners value the views of residential customers, they should make them part of the decision making process. This does not mean putting one or two token representatives on the broadband team, which is clearly an internal county government working group.
A broadband advisory group should be appointed and should include business and residential customers. This group should review and comment on the broadband team’s findings as the study progresses and provide feedback as to what issues should be addressed.
When I testified in support of the broadband grant last year, my final comment was: “Involve the public through better outreach than evidenced so far in the grant application process.” I am deeply disappointed that recommendation fell on deaf ears.
– Lyn Widmyer of Charles Town is a former member of the Jefferson County Commission