Verizon Decision Leaves Powhatan with Tough Internet Choices

broadbandBy John Szczesny

“How they heck can we get broadband internet?”

That’s the question being asked in rural Powhatan County, where officials earlier this month held a meeting with frustrated residents living without a vital connection to the world around them.

Cable never came to these folks; their neighborhoods weren’t densely settled enough to suit incumbent providers Verizon and Comcast, and thus they were also left without internet service that is typically bundled as a package.

In Powhatan and many other rural Virginia communities the only telecom infrastructure in the ground is copper used to provide land-line phone service, which is fast becoming a 20th century relic as people make the switch to IP and mobile networking technologies.

Verizon owns this copper in Powhatan, but reluctantly so: the company has moved in recent months to sell off a good chunk of its wireline assets in order to focus on the more lucrative wireless business (read: selling us smartphones). Even a direct $144 million dollar subsidy offered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) couldn’t induce Verizon to extend internet service to its rural service areas which includes Powhatan. The telco giant refused the money this past summer.

What’s next for Powhatan? Unless Verizon sells off its wireline infrastructure in the county to a willing provider there isn’t much hope of a private sector solution. The Return on Investment (ROI) would need to factor out, and that would be doubtful without the density of customers to purchase service.

And so we’re back to the issue of municipal broadband.

County officials have mentioned Fixed Wireless as a potential solution, on a network with a fiber backhaul to connect with towers. It may not be any cheaper, but this route would encounter less regulatory interference from the state than building municipal broadband on an underground fiber optic network (and without towers).

Unless state telecom regulators step in with assistance, rather than interference, rural communities like Powhatan are going to have to go it alone in an expensive mission to connect with the internet.

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42 responses to “Verizon Decision Leaves Powhatan with Tough Internet Choices

  1. The FCC’s website has a map of telephone company exchange boundaries and the serving companies. It is scalable so one can get the big picture or dig deeply into neighborhoods. http://apps.fcc.gov/wcb/sabdata/

    Here is an industry where density really reduces costs. Having said that, Verizon’s strategy is somewhat squirrelly. Years ago, Bell Atlantic combined with GTE to form Verizon. The merger brought with it a lot of rural property, but also some good metro areas (Tampa-St. Pete, parts of Dallas-Fort Worth, and a sizable chunk of Los Angeles) and suburban areas that fit nicely with Bell Atlantic’s existing footprint (e.g, Prince William County). It also has MCI’s business customer operations.

    Not surprisingly, as Verizon bulked up its wireless business and introduced FIOS in many markets, it started selling its rural (and some suburban) properties (Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, etc.). Then it began a second round selling states where Bell Atlantic had been the largest local Telco (Maine, NH, Vermont, West Virginia). The decision to sell good markets in Florida, Texas and California indicates to me Verizon sees itself as a wireless company with some wireline broadband business, largely on the East Coast. I suspect further sales will occur such that Verizon’s FIOS business will be a just a few huge eastern Metros.

    AT&T, on the other hand, seems more content to be in both the wireless and wireline business. AT&T is really Southwestern Bell, plus the Old AT&T, BellSouth, Ameritech, Pacific Bell and Southern New England Tel, which it has since sold.

    Two different companies; two different business plans.

  2. The mistake we made was allowing the company to divest of rural areas. These days companies are getting by with refusing to help make sure everyone has access to basic services (broadband) required in today’s society to be able to participate in the economy. Instead of spreading the costs across everyone, areas are broken up so companies can make more money serving the cheapest localities. That leaves more expensive areas with significantly higher costs to get less service and means they will never achieve economic self-sufficiency. A Verizon president told me publicly (twice) I need to move to get the service I need and that IF society needs people to live in rural areas it will pay us welfare to live here! That attitude is pervasive today among Virginia corporate and elected leaders.

    The issue isn’t state regulation. We are repeating the lesson we failed to learn when we allowed electric companies to select what areas they did/didn’t serve. In that case, we ended up with electric cooperatives that generally serve smaller geographic areas, often with more difficult terrain. Prices for electricity are considerably higher – so companies have not located there, but in cheaper areas served by lower cost investor owned utilities. The difference with broadband is that areas left unserved by fiber are often so small that no provider can afford to offer high quality service that is affordable to consumers.

    Regulation needs to deal with the issue of cutting up service areas so providers only serve the areas cheap to serve, leaving expensive areas unserved. When this separation occurs, there’s no competitive market economic solution.

    • Actually, the facts have shown in many cases that smaller markets often receive better service from rural telephone companies than they do from big companies, such as Verizon. Verizon (and many other big companies) see markets such as Powhatan County as money losers and a small market with little upside. A rural Telco would, on the other hand, see the same market as much bigger (relatively) and might well invest more money to provide better service. Also, all rural areas have access to Universal Service Funds (federal and sometimes state) as a matter of federal (and state) statutes.

      The FCC (and many state PUCs) are obligated to approve sales, divestitures and mergers so long as they are in the public interest. These deals often come with investment requirements.

      (Full disclosure, I have represented rural telephone companies and their trade associations from time to time for the last 18 years.)

      • It may be true that a rural telco can do as well or better – but not when they don’t get the whole county. Where I live in Montgomery County there is a 5 mile circle not served because when the cable company came out of Blacksburg on the back road it had fiber to go on the whole road, but about 3 miles from the end of the road, it diverted onto another road. The company has no plans to finish the loop. We are only of interest to wireless providers who have very slow speed and very low caps for very high cost. Nothing motivates providers to cover everyone. Maybe our local government needed to require them to cover but it didn’t and we have no recourse now. I spend a lot of time in various rural areas and know that citizens are generally dissatisfied with the internet/cable service available.

        • I can empathize with you to a point – there is a need for widespread deployment of broadband and simply living in a rural area does not diminish that need. But living in a rural area has benefits, such as lower taxes, fewer traffic jams, a lot less noise, and the like. So sometimes there are some drawbacks also. I’d don’t mean to sound cavalier, but there are tradeoffs made when we select the location where we live.

          Most utility franchises have an obligation to cover a large percentage of, but not total area, of the franchise territory. I’d check with the county or whatever locality granted the franchise.

          I’d push the cable company about applying for USF. Additionally, you might wish to work with your neighbors to see whether its practical to join together to finance the laying of the additional cable and taps and then try to work out a deal with the cable company to use your line for service. Telcos worked with customer-owned lines for many years. Absent some engineering problem, cable companies should be able to do so too.

          • We have been operating our farm for over 100 years. No one had heard of cable or internet back then. We are learning that no company wants to provide us services we want in central Virginia However they think we are a perfect location for the 42 inch high pressure transmission gas pipelinepipe for a mile through the middle of our operation. Because so few people live around the area, they don’t even have to inspect often. When it suits others for us to have nothing we have nothing. When it suits them for us to have something we have it. They are making us live with daily risk with infrastructure we don’t want and that neither serves us nor pays us regular income.

            The house I live in in Montgomery county was a stagecoach wayside built in 1797. When we bought

          • My machine locked up. This follows the paragraph in the response below.

            The house I live in in Montgomery county was built in 1797 as a stagecoach wayside. We have lived here over 30 years. No one had heard of cable and internet when we moved here. We’re only 2 miles off I81 and there is a subdivision (unserved) between us and the interstate. The Mountain Valley Pipeline will come through and the compression station is likely to end up in a backyard in our neighborhood.
            So two properties I own in two different places, both in a situation of no one wants to provide the infrastructure we need but everyone else thinks we’re the perfect location for infrastructure no one wants. Seems we deserve to win in at least one of those situations.

          • Not having broadband is more like not having roads or electricity.

            At least with electricity one can, in theory, generate it on site.

            This isn’t just a tradeoff. It’s becoming a huge economic viability issue.

    • I agree with you, VC, that “Regulation needs to deal with the issue of cutting up service areas so providers only serve the areas cheap to serve, leaving expensive areas unserved. When this separation occurs, there’s no competitive market economic solution.” And I agree with TMT that in fact, today, “Most utility franchises have an obligation to cover a large percentage of, but not total area, of the franchise territory.”

      The problem here has to be laid at the local politicians’ door. If Montgomery Co. VA or any other political jurisdiction has granted an EXCLUSIVE franchise without a “use it or lose it” clause (allowing a competitor to come in after the franchisee has done nothing for a period of time), it’s only the County that can force a renegotiation of the franchise. And that will be difficult enough. Even more of a barrier is the inability of competitors to reach those smallest isolated pockets economically. I know in eastern Va, for example in Lancaster and Middlesex and Mathews, after a string of franchisee bankruptcies and other disruptions halted extensions of the cable network, some attempts have been made by local, private companies to extend broadband data services OTA via relay towers, but I don’t know how successful they have been, or how well they’ve got along with existing cable providers regarding franchise encroachment. In Mathews, I was lucky; an abandoned portion of an earlier, decrepit cable network was resuscitated when a bunch of residents got together and pressured the latest provider through the County Board to “do something.”

      This sort of impasse makes a good case for the municipal/county government broadband option.

  3. Regulation needs to say either you suck it up on your profits and do the lesser areas or you don’t get the bigger ones. Too many golden parachutes being paid for useless admin rather than services.

    • Many of these rural counties are so unattractive to cable, the county will take just about any franchise bid it can get, even if it doesn’t offer county-wide coverage. What you are asking for, and I agree with you, is a policy that would have to be implemented at the State level, trading off urban access for rural. I don’t know if the VSCC has any leverage under current Virginia law to impose that kind of pressure on the likes of Verizon.

  4. Pingback: Verizon decision to leave FCC money on table leave… | Steve Jenkins' Journal

  5. interesting discussion. what is the argument against letting business decide what has an ROI and what does not?

    what exactly entitles those who don’t have broadband – to broadband?

    why is that a government issue that merits the govt stepping in?

    Jim Bacon sez that people need to pay for what they use… and if they choose to “sprawl” the there IS a cost to that – and it should be borne by the persons wanting the service, not taxpayers and not other ratepayers.

    right?

    • Larry, that isn’t the issue. The problem is that right now, counties cannot choose to step in when the private sector doesn’t find it profitable enough. Following the implementation of Optinet in Bristol, Virginia basically made municipal provision of Internet as difficult as possible.

      Why is it a government issue? Because educational opportunity, especially in remote areas, is largely provided via Internet. Because businesses of all sizes need Internet to function, and counties need business growth for employment and taxes. Because counties with good Internet connectivity can grow and prosper – and those without cannot.

      A county can take into account the boost in tax revenue and benefits to the community. An ISP could care less about that – it’s not an offset for them.

      The current law on municipal Internet is more focused on keeping profitable areas for out of state ISPs, and not at all on the welfare of residents. That balance needs to change.

  6. Vgal2 – but the libertarian types here in BR will tell you that the govt should not be subsidizing services and especially those where people have willingly chosen to live in places where those services are not cost-effective and do not provide an adequate ROI to the investors.

    I’ve spent the last couple of days cruising rural NC and none of those folks have cable.. all have “dishes” , some have old-style TV antennas.

    those same folks – probably would not have landline phone or electric service if the density criteria for cable was the same.

    In many places – the govt assisted electric and phone with subsidized rural cooperatives – as opposing to forcing the companies themselves to offer services where is was not cost-effective but then get all other ratepayers to share those costs.

    If today, we had the same mindset that we did when we did rural electric cooperatives – it would be a no-brainer – we’d have rural broadband cooperatives but societal attitudes seem to have changed.

    rural cooperatives seem to never get absorbed later on by the main utilities.. there are still quite a few rural electric cooperatives around that either don’t want to be absorbed by Dominion or Dominion still does not want those territories.

    but the political thing especially in the rural areas where many vote fairly conservative these days and many who live in modest older homes – are often more opposed than in favor – even though as you point out – education AND economic development now rest on internet.

    So.. my question is – If you had a referenda in Powhatan over the county getting involved in rural broadband – how would the votes turn out if it was going to raise taxes to do it?

    My guess is that if they voted similar to the way they tend to vote politically that county-funded broadband would not be easy.

    • Perhaps, a solution is to amend the Code of Virginia to permit the formation of broadband coops. Sooner or later, the FCC is going to come up with a broadband-only USF plan. But, broadband in very rural areas is going to be more expensive than broadband even in smaller towns and cities.

    • Thing is, this is not about raising taxes, which I agree would be a non-starter in most rural localities – although, honestly, shouldn’t that be the choice of the locality, rather than dictated by the General Assembly?

      It limits counties in many, many ways that do not involve raising taxes. Here are some examples. John, please correct me if I misunderstand any of this.

      With current rules, you cannot have a non-profit partner with a county to set up a broadband co-op, using county right of way. A county cannot offer broadband at cost, if it is less expensive than the private sector offers, even if offering it at cost greatly increases tax revenues. A county cannot donate land or usage of land, for example for wireless broadband.

      A county can use development funds to subsidize water lines for future growth, but cannot use development funds to subsidize broadband. That means they cannot take advantage of new construction (for example, for new county offices or schools) to put down broadband to sell to residents in the future, and they cannot ask for contributions of extension of broadband as a proffer.

      BTW, re your comment about NC – IIRC, wireless broadband also uses dishes – unless you see a logo on the dish, the presence of a dish doesn’t automatically mean satellite.

  7. in another thread – the principles and role of govt is discussed and in this thread – it’s in some respects a similar issue.

    Some folks believe that for some fundamental ( maybe subjective?) things such as roads, education, electricity that the govt has a legitimate role and these days many consider internet on the same level as education, roads and electricity. In other words, access to internet is not a “luxury” but has become as important as other core services.

    so how do we resolve these kinds of issue these days – say at the county level if a good number of folks are opposed to any role of govt in providing internet ( I purposely use the word internet versus broadband).

    is that something we have a referenda over and abide by majority vote?

    or people vote with their feet – leave counties that don’t provide (what they consider) basic services?

    can counties essentially use the lack of internet to discourage growth – at least in rural areas where they don’t want growth?

    • I have not seen localities oppose provision of broadband. Opposition seems to come primarily from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who do not want competition.

      Localities that want to discourage growth typically mean discouraging the growth of suburban-style development – in other words, preservation of rural character. They generally do not want to discourage business, and they generally do not want to discourage residents from making a good living and educating their children.

  8. I agree virginiagal2. Many rural people have lived there since long before cable or internet service was available, just like people lived in rural areas before electricity. Thus, no one should assume that rural people chose to live there without cable or internet. Rural people are not the only ones left out, people in more urban or suburban areas may also end up not being covered since providers get to decide what they want to do/ where they run out of resources. Today everyone needs access to high speed, dependable, and affordable cable and internet to have the potential to interact in the marketplace (including offer their own business), be educated, access health care, and generally participate in society. We can’t afford to have geographic areas without service because they will have no opportunity to be self-sufficient in today’s marketplace.

  9. well our county backed out of a venture to provide internet where cable would not when the company said they would need some level of govt support to do it.

    I truthfully don’t know all the ins and outs but I think I know the politics these days – in places in Virginia that typically vote 60-70% red and would not be surprised to hear that those counties would not agree to financial support without strong support from taxpayers.

    I think what the proposal was – was to put up a series of towers that would carry broadband – as opposed to burying cable which I would suspect would be even more expensive.

    In our county – people without internet cable – rely on cellular broadband if they have a good enough signal and conventional wisdom is that more towers would give more people access but the cell companies have the same density concerns as the buried cable folks do and are not inclined to put up more towers especially where folks oppose the towers where they can see them. Yes… they want the towers but not where they can see them! 😉

    without muddying the water here too much – some folks feel the same way about the availability of water/sewer as they do about other services like cable – and water/sewer has the same cost issues with regard to density – and that’s where my comment about controlling growth came from. Of course water/sewer is a two part equation.

    First, the county (or sometimes private provider) has to ascertain if there is enough density to make the pipe infrastructure cost effective and then part 2 is that hook-ups are usually pricey – thousands of dollars just to hook-up and that’s separate from monthly fees for operations. Some water/sewer providers allow people pay pro-rata per month an additional fee for the hook-up (capital costs).

    And perhaps that’s the kind of proposal that could be put to those who want service – assuming enough folks sign up for the service.

    I like the water/sewer model because it is not subsidized by non-users. Every person who uses it has to pay and no one who does not use it has to pay for it (at least the ones I’m familiar with).

    I’d’ be curious to hear from Mr. Szczesny also, any further thoughts he might have on the aspect of providing broadband wirelessly via towers. Is that an unfettered ability of the locality to pursue?

    thanks!

    • Even Fairfax County charges several thousand dollars for a new house or other building to connect to sanitary sewer.

      If a commercial broadband provider will not serve an area and if taxpayers are willing to pay higher taxes or shift money from other uses, I don’t see a problem with municipal broadband. As I’ve noted earlier, if a private provider is willing to serve an area, there is no reason to allow a taxpayer subsidized competitor.

    • Hey Larry, the issue with the towers is the RF concerns (trees, terrain, etc.). So it could be challenging to provide good coverage, but maybe not. That would need to be determined by an RF Engineer (which I am not).

      Also, I interpret the rules on fixed wireless to be easier to navigate in VA than solely fiber optic broadband. That’s my reading of the law. Nothing is unfettered as any option would require SCC review/approval.

  10. I suspect part of the problem with the private providers is that they probably feel that WHEN a place becomes dense enough they WILL serve it but if the govt essentially steps in before then that they are essentially poaching on future potential business – i.e. preempting opportunities that ripen over time.

    I’m not advocating or arguing pro or con here as much as I am trying to see the dynamics that drive the attitudes of businesses which I think is needed if you’re going to find areas of compromise that businesses will agree to.

    Of course some businesses are SOBs no matter what … and you will never please them… but finding the sweet spot that some will agree to – tends to get the hard-liners to ease up also.

    but again – I do bring up water/sewer as an example of a govt-provided service – for those that want it – that is not subsidized by other taxpayers. It purely pay-as-you-go for most systems. If you want to play – you have to pay your share of the capital costs as well as the operational costs.

    • We really don’t have extreme rural areas in Virginia compared to locations further out west. Cherry County, Nebraska, population 5700 plus or minus is 6009 square miles, bigger than the state of Connecticut or the combination of Delaware and Rhode Island. 2700 of the residents can be found in the county seat of Valentine.

  11. I would argue that the telecom companies got their strength via government regulation that assured them a profit. For them to now decide that they don’t want to serve everyone and to use that strength to change the dynamics so they can take the good territory and ignore the less good – making the overall cost for anyone to serve the less good higher – is wrong.

    Your water/sewer example is fine – except rural folks helped pay to get the fiber in the areas that have it. Several years ago it became hard to get a telephone repair – and when we finally did, the worker explained that half of the people assigned to our territory were in NOVA each week laying fiber. That was called supporting the whole system. Interesting that now there’s no fiber in our area and they’re letting the copper die. Since back in the day almost all of our calls were long distance, I’d say we paid our share and more for the overall system, only to be dropped cold now.

  12. well one thing not covered so far in this discussion is the fact that wherever the cable companies lay cable – they don’t have to buy that right-of-way – it’s a govt-acquired asset they are given a right to use and they choose to use it where it is profitable and they choose to not use it where it is not and without access to that right of way – “profit” would be harder.

    • In most instances the cable TV distribution plant is not buried, but strung overhead. They need to pay the pole owner (electric or telephone companies) fees for pole attachments. The FCC regulates pole attachments under Section 224 of the Communications Act. The Agency also hears complaints about alleged excessive rates for attachments.

      As far as telecom territory is concerned, the service areas have largely been fixed for 50-60 years, if not longer. Back in 1914, the Attorney General signed an agreement with AT&T prohibiting it from acquiring any independent Telcos without federal permission. And in the early days of the FCC, the Agency put pressure on the Bell System to sell any minority shares they had in other Telcos, e.g, Lincoln, NE and Rochester, NY. The big guys have long decided what territory they will serve and what they won’t or were prohibited from serving. The best source of broadband in rural markets is either a coop or small investor-owned Telco or cable company.

      • @TMT – it’s buried and overhead where I live.

        but you mention the pole-owners. do they own the ground they are putting the poles in?

        who owns that land?

        and can anyone put a pole in rather than pay someone else for using their pole?

        what limits who can put poles in ?

        • Larry, some of the RoW is owned by the government, such as a street RoW or a park. Some is governed by an easement from (a) private property owner(s). It’s my understanding that the ultimate landowner controls when and where poles can be placed, normally negotiated in a master agreement or easement. Generally, I’ve seen reasonable flexibility, especially on the part of a government owner. Absent some environmental or safety concerns, they tend to be reasonable and flexible as all hell would break lose if the community could not have access to electricity, cable TV, broadband or plain old telephone service.

          What has given me a chuckle over the years is the landowner who wants a utility or public service company to pay a fee to place utility plant on the landowner’s property to serve just the landowner. OK, we won’t hook up your telephone or cable TV. It’s different when the utility wants to bury a line on the neighbor’s property. Sometimes, the easement is not broad enough to cover that situation.

          Most subdivision plats include utility easements. And most utilities are respectful of the landowner’s rights when working on, or accessing, the easement. Indeed, I came home from the office a couple weeks ago to see a Verizon tech installing service for a new neighbor. The tech asked if she could cross my property to install the neighbor’s service. I said “Of course.”

          • @tmt – don’t you think where most power polls are – belongs to the govt because other utilities are also located there quite often?

            how did the govt get the ROW?

            see – my point here is that the cable companies don’t usually own the ROW.

            getting permission to cross your property just saved the tech the extra steps he would have needed to follow the ROW to the other persons house which usually runs along the lot lines.

            but my question is – who owns the ROW – and who gives the cable companies the right to use that ROW for buried or overhead utilities?

            when you own a piece of land – isn’t there usually something on one or more of the borders which says “public utility easement”?

            how does that easement – get to be a public utility easement if you did not have it written in to your deed when you purchased?

            my impression is that you have no choice. The govt requires you to allow access to that easement by the utility companies, electric, phone, cable, …

  13. Areas served by utilities were settled long ago and are very hard to change. As Virginia deregulated and reregulated electricity, some tried to get their provider changed and were largely unsuccessful. Generally, the areas served by cooperatives are still not areas the investor owned folks want, except in areas that are now suburban. My neighbors tried to switch from the coop to AEP because our coop has the worst territory and the fewest subscribers in the state and AEP lines run all over our properties – but the change was not allowed. Cooperatives had government support to be created – but today in Virginia cooperative electric rates are generally higher than AEP and Dominion’s. Rural people don’t want to pay higher rates, but the system is set up so people can’t just change their provider at will.
    Attachments to poles has been a contentious issue, too. Cable folks turned to the General Assembly to get a settlement with coops about using poles several years ago. Both sides want to make money and compromise has not been encouraged.
    When we bought our Montgomery county property it was served by the coop but we have AEP and Verizon easements that have been on the property for many decades before we bought it. We just have to deal with them.

  14. Areas served by utilities were settled long ago and are very hard to change. As Virginia deregulated and reregulated electricity, some tried to get their provider changed and were largely unsuccessful. Generally, the areas served by cooperatives are still not areas the investor owned folks want, except in areas that are now suburban. My neighbors tried to switch from the coop to AEP because our coop has the worst territory and the fewest subscribers in the state and AEP lines run all over our properties – but the change was not allowed. Cooperatives had government support to be created – but Virginia cooperative electric rates are generally higher than AEP and Dominion’s. Rural people don’t want to pay higher rates, but the system is set up so people can’t just change their provider at will.
    Attachments to poles has been a contentious issue, too. Cable folks turned to the General Assembly to get a settlement with coops about using poles several years ago. Both sides want to make money and compromise has not been encouraged.
    When we bought our Montgomery county property it was served by the coop but we have AEP and Verizon easements that have been on the property for many decades before we bought it. We just have to deal with them
    It’s interesting that people who live in areas with good internet seem to think those who don’t have it chose to live in an area without it. Although many people move often, many more don’t. Those who have businesses that require land, like farms, can’t move at the drop of a hat and every business today needs reasonable internet access to survive. Our cattle business requires registering animals online, for example. New businesses will not locate in areas without decent internet but those with established ones many not have choices. However to compete moving forward, to keep young family members on the farm so their children get access to internet to learn and compete in today’s world, to be economically viable, every business today needs real internet. It is vital basic infrastructure not a choice for entertainment. If we want all geographic areas to be economically viable, we’ve got to get real affordable internet service to all somehow. Separating expensive to serve areas from cheap to serve ones pretty much prohibits expensive areas from success.

  15. re: areas served.

    but virtually no areas could be “served” if the govt did not provide – gratis – a corridor/right-of-way for them to string their lines.

    no?

    so the question is – if the govt provides the right-of-way to “served areas” – does it have a legitimate say in what areas should be served?

    • Some times RoW is provided by government, but not always. There are many occasions when a utility needs to purchase access to another’s property through an easement or a license. Utilities regularly employ RoW agents whose job it is to obtain adequate easements for installing cables and equipment. I’ve reviewed many a private easement or license in my day.

  16. @tmt – along major public roads – are those private easements?

    how about in subdivisions with public streets?

    if you buy a house in a subdivision – do the electric, cable, telephone have to negotiate with you to lay cable in front of your property to serve others past your property?

    • In Fairfax County, where I’ve lived since 1987, most of the utility easements are located in the back of each lot and not in the front on VDOT RoW. It may be different in older neighborhoods built before 1960.

      Since 2004, state law has required common utility easements for any new plat unless waived by all utilities. And as I recall, government entities can and do impose annual fees on their easement, which are supposed to recover associated costs and not be a general source of revenue.

      • Look at a recent phone or cable TV bill. There is likely a line for Virginia RoW fees/charges. The fees paid to government for use of public RoW is normally passed along to consumers and often billed as a separate line item.

  17. These days when subdivisions are planned the easements for basic utilities are planned and are there from the first time the property is sold. Craziness in recent years was letting both Verizon and Comcast put in fiber in the same new subdivisions so they could compete – while many places do not have fiber. We wasted that fiber and repeated the same lesson folks learned when electricity was first offered in New York City and each provider had to put in the lines.
    You are correct that many of these lines use rights of ways for highways and other real estate government owns and that companies do not pay for this. These companies have a lot of influence over government so they’ve generally achieved the majority of their objectives, regardless of what it meant to consumers.

  18. re: ” These days when subdivisions are planned the easements for basic utilities are planned”

    what does “planned” mean in terms of who designates the land that is to be used for utilities and which utilities can use them?

    In other words, if I bought a lot in a subdivision and I did not agree to my land being used for “free” utility easements and instead wanted to negotiate with each utility to pay for access – what keeps me from doing that?

    at what point when a parcel of land is being subdivided are the utility easements “planned” and who is doing that planning and what right do the folks who take the land for utility easements have?

    • If the easement was recorded before you bought the property, you own subject to the easement. If there is no easement and a utility wants one, it must negotiate with you or file suit to condemn an easement.

  19. how can one property owner condemn another persons property for their need?

    can I condemn your property for an easement I want?

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