By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Nov. 30, 2017 | 2:25 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – The Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors opted to delay a decision on a proposed tax exemption for area nonprofit organization Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation following a public hearing just before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Last week’s public hearing was a required step for MBC to go through as part of their request to receive an exemption from “local property taxes,” documents from Dinwiddie County detailed leading up to the public comment period.
The decision to table the matter allows for further consideration in December, just over two months after supervisors approved moving forward with a public hearing on the proposal to garner community comment before making a decision to approve or deny the exemption.
Leading up to last week’s public hearing, The Dinwiddie Monitor reached out to officials with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation to learn more about their request and why they felt an exemption from local property taxes would benefit their organization but both a phone message and email were not returned.
During the evening session of the county board’s monthly meeting, supervisors and members of the public were shown a presentation that walked through MBC’s past, present, and future while looking at their contributions to Dinwiddie County and the region as a whole.
According to their data, the over 1,800 miles of fiber optic lines owned by MBC that course their way through Southern Virginia have “attracted numerous companies to the region and has directly helped to bring more than 1,100 jobs and $2.7 billion in private sector investment.”
For MBC, those numbers stand as an example of why the nonprofit organization was formed, to serve as a catalyst for economic development in Southern Virginia, an area that has many of the things businesses look for, from accessibility to strong and knowledgeable pools of potential employees and access to key logistical assets, such as interstates and rail, but, in parts, lacking access to reliable and affordable broadband internet services.
Thanks to funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, or VTC, and the United States Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the organization was able to complete the first phase of their network, roughly 600 miles, in Sept. of 2006, approximately two years after MBC’s formation.
In the grand scheme of the broadband conversation, MBC serves as a “middle-mile network,” which the nonprofit defined in their presentation by saying they “are the backbone that connects end users to the world (the “interstate highway” of telecommunications).”
MBC doesn’t act as an internet service provider or ISP. Instead, they provide the fiber network that allows an ISP to be able to provide services to the end user, which as residents and businesses of a particular community or area.
According to MBC, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, they “reinvest excess earnings back into the network and into the communities” they serve, noting that MBC sponsors all 11 high school robotics teams in the Southern Virginia region, providing $6,000 in funding per team each season. In addition, MBC provides scholarships of $5,000 to both Danville and Southside Virginia community colleges for students studying in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, fields.
To date, MBC has invested nearly $350,000 in area FIRST FRC Robotics teams in the region and over $100,000 in scholarships, according to their presentation.
While discussing the fiber network’s regional benefits, MBC also spoke to their investments in Dinwiddie County, noting there is fiber connectivity to the Dinwiddie Airport Industrial Park and Dinwiddie Commerce Park for both current and prospective businesses, with Farmville-based ISP Kinex providing service to customers in the area via MBC’s fiber network.
Additionally, MBC said they provide a “zero cost” fiber broadband connection to the Dinwiddie County Airport Authority at a value of $4,800 annually.
According to a table provided by MBC of those utilizing the organization’s open-access network in Dinwiddie, a total of eight locations are connected to their network in the county, including Southern Dominion Health Services along Courthouse Road, the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Office on Boydton Plank Road, and Moss Motors on Simpson Road, among others.
MBC also said they actively support organizations looking to bolster the region’s economic footprint, noting they have donated “over $75,000” to the Virginia Gateway Region economic development organization, who played a key role with local and state officials in tech and online retail titan Amazon deciding to build its distribution center in the county.
Going forward, MBC said they are partnering with ISP SCS Broadband to “extend fiber to two tower sites in the county,” with MBC “building laterally to the tower sites at no cost to SCS or [the] county,” at a cost of $18,000. The organization also plans to donate the first six months of one-gigabit transport to those sites at no cost. After that, the transport price would be “heavily subsidized while SCS signs up customers and creates revenue to sustain their operations.”
According to their figures, the estimated benefit to SCS Broadband to enable high-speed wireless broadband in the county would be roughly $12,000 during the first year and $5,000 during the second year and going forward.
“MBC operates exclusively as a non-profit social welfare organization, ensuring that the fiber and electronics assets that are deployed in 26 southern Virginia counties are used to accomplish the mission: Reduce the Burdens of Government, Promote Economic Development, Reinvest in our Communities, [and] Bridge the Digital Divide,” their presentation closed.
At the end of their presentation, MBC said, “If tax-exempt status is not granted, MBC will be required to reduce the level of contributions in Dinwiddie County to defray the added cost of paying property taxes in Dinwiddie County.”
As part of their consideration, according to documents from Dinwiddie County and the Code of Virginia, supervisors must consider a number of questions as part of the approval or denial of the exemption, such as if the company is a registered 501(c), which MBC is, or if “the organization is providing services for the common good of the public,” among others.
The matter is expected to return to the board in December during their last meeting of 2017 where a decision could be made at that time.