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Letter to the Editor: Arlington Needs New Options for High-Speed Internet Service

The owner of a small technology business wrote to the Arlington County Board this week to argue that the existing choices for high-speed internet service in Arlington are inadequate and new options should be considered.

Josh Blanchard, a Ballston resident, shared his letter with ARLnow.com.

Dear County Board of Arlington,

Imagine that new residents in Arlington routinely went for days or weeks without power, or water service in their new homes. Imagine that the power company routinely shut off service to new and old residents for arbitrary reasons, and that restoring service required dozens of hours spent on the phone battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

This is the situation we have in Arlington county right now with internet service, and it is untenable. I’m writing to ask what plan the county has to improve competition in Arlington for reliable, high speed Internet service.

My wife and I have been Arlington residents for 10 years, and recently moved to a new home in Avon Park just west of Ballston. Our experience with Verizon FIOS has been so aggravating that I find myself regretting our decision to remain in Arlington. The prior resident at our new home had Verizon FIOS working, we are FIOS subscribers. The switch should have been flawless, as it was for our other utilities. It was not. Our service worked for 24 hours before Verizon arbitrarily shut us down, and now insists that it will be a week before they restore service. We have been on and off the phone with Verizon for days, in a series of increasingly more futile conversations. Our only other option for high speed Internet is Comcast, who offers incredibly unreliable Internet and also has terrible customer service. In our old house (also in Avon Park), we repeatedly suffered similar outages and aggravations at the hands of both Comcast and Verizon. Our experience is far from unique – terrible treatment and unreliable service from Verizon and Comcast is par for the course in Arlington County.

I’m a software engineer and business owner who works from home. Internet is not a luxury for me, it is an essential utility. Our home is replete with IoT devices that require Internet to function. The temperate in our home got to 85 degrees in the middle of the night last night because our thermostat does not function properly without Internet connectivity. Our home security will not work without internet. Not to mention, every minute we are without service costs my business money.

We live just 3 blocks away from the Ballston Business Improvement District, and as you know the county is actively courting startups and technology companies to the area. If a fellow business owner were to ask me about locating a new tech startup here, I would caution them against it, as Internet service is too essential to be left to the dreadful oligopoly we have with Comcast and Verizon. Our options for residential internet service are appalling for an urban area, making Arlington an undesirable location for most tech companies who will rely heavily on telecommuting. Commercial service options in the area are no better. If Arlington wishes to grow a tech friendly community, we must address this problem.

To that end, I have a few questions to ask you:

1) What is the county doing to court competitors to Comcast and Verizon, such as Google Fiber?

2) What steps has the county board in Arlington taken to lower the regulatory burden for laying fiber infrastructure, and court new ISP startups, like Brooklyn Fiber, Chattanooga Fiber, or Rocket Fiber in Detroit?

3) Has Arlington county explored establishing a county run municipal broadband service?

4) What other steps does the county plan to improve competition for high speed Internet service to Arlington residents?

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Josh Blanchard

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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