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When selecting the legal structure to support a community led broadband initiative, Virginia communities should consider taking advantage of one or more of the structures set forth by the General Assembly to facilitate the delivery of broadband services.

The three primary mechanisms – the PPEA, Wireless Service Authorities, and Municipal Local Exchange Carrier Certification - offer communities the ability to leverage structural and financial provisions specifically designed to facilitate the delivery of broadband services in unserved areas while protecting the jurisdiction’s “right” to drive a municipality owned, operated, or influenced broadband network. Additionally, the options offer a great deal of lattitude for partnering with the private sector to attain the desired outcome. 

The Virginia Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA); Virginia Resources Authority

Enacted in 2002, the “PPEA” (Code of Virginia § 56-575.1 et seq.) is intended to facilitate public-private partnerships by bringing the advantages of private sector innovation and creative financing to a broad range of public projects such as schools, technology infrastructure, governmental facilities and other public infrastructure. Under the PPEA, the private and public entities have wide discretion to utilize a variety of funding resources that may be available to them, including the issuance of debt, equity or other securities, enter into leases, borrow or accept grants, etc. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly added wireless broadband equipment and infrastructure to the definition of projects that may be entered into under the provisions of the PPEA, and projects that can be financed through the Virginia Resources Authority (“VRA”). The VRA, which was created by the General Assembly in 1984, supports community investment by providing cost-effective financial solutions to local governments and other public bodies.

Wireless Service Authorities

The Virginia General Assembly (House Bill 2164 (2003)) enacted the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act in 2003 (Code of Virginia, §15.2-5431.1 et seq.), which set up a statutory vehicle to foster the deployment of wireless broadband technologies in rural markets. As declared by the legislature, “each Authority is an instrumentality exercising public and essential governmental functions to provide for the public health and welfare …”

The Act enables counties, cities and towns in Virginia to form their own Wireless Service Authorities to provide certain communications services, including but not limited to, high speed data and Internet access services.  Wireless Service Authorities have wide discretion to both directly own and provide broadband services to customers or to partner with the private sector for the deployment and operation of a broadband network.  The services are not limited to wireless systems or technologies.

One advantage of Wireless Service Authorities is that they are separate legal entities from the locality or localities that establish them. (Authorities can also be established jointly, or as multi-jurisdictional, regional entities.) Like other governmental authorities in Virginia, Wireless Service Authorities can enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and most importantly, borrow money and issue debt to finance their projects – debt that is not a legal obligation of the locality or localities that establish the Authority.  In addition, Wireless Service Authorities are able to use state-owned lands for their facilities.

Answers to the 10 most commonly asked questions about Wireless Authorities

Municipal Local Exchange Carrier (MLEC)

Municipal local exchange carrier (“MLEC”) refers to a locality (city, town, or county that operates an electric distribution system in Virginia) certificated to provide local exchange telecommunications services.

Senate Bill 245 (2002) provides that any certificate for local exchange service or interexchange service granted by the SCC after July 1, 2002, shall be for service throughout the Commonwealth. Each local exchange carrier that was certificated before July 1, 2002, to provide service in part of the Commonwealth shall be certificated to provide local exchange service throughout the Commonwealth beginning September 1, 2002. The bill authorizes any county, city or town that operates an electric distribution system to provide telephone services within any locality in which it has electric distribution system facilities as of March 1, 2002, if the locality obtains a certificate for such service from the SCC and complies with all applicable laws and regulations for the provision of competitive telecommunications services. A county, city or town that does not obtain a certificate to provide telephone services may offer qualifying telecommunications services, including high-speed data service and Internet access service, upon application to the SCC. The SCC shall approve such a petition if it is in the public interest, and if the proposed services are not available in quantity, quality, and price from three or more providers in the proposed geographic area