The Fredericksburg, Va., region should work together to ensure it has enough broadband Internet capacity to meet the demands of businesses and consumers.

That was the message delivered by Sandie Terry during a Thursday morning broadband summit in Fredericksburg organized by the University of Mary Washington. Terry is broadband program manager for Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.

Broadband connectivity has been one of the key pillars of a regional economic development plan that UMW has been working on.

Terry told local business and government leaders gathered at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center that broadband should be treated as a utility along with sewer, water and electricity. She said businesses and homeowners now demand it, and localities need to make sure they plan accordingly.

Terry urged attendees to work together as a region to map the area’s broadband network and figure out a plan to fill in the gaps. Areas that don’t do so will be left behind, she said.

The George Washington Regional Commission has been working on that mapping as part of the regional economic development planning process.

Terry showed maps of the Fredericksburg area showing where broadband—through DSL phone lines, cable and satellite connections, fiber and other technologies—is located now. Coverage is best in the city of Fredericksburg, but spottier in more rural areas where population density isn’t sufficient for providers to invest.

She and other summit attendees pointed out that there are fiber lines running down the region’s major transportation corridors, but it’s not easy to convince the providers to allow local connections.

Terry said wireless technology might make it easier to bring broadband to less densely populated areas.

She urged local governments to adopt broadband-friendly policies regarding permitting, zoning and more.

Attendees pointed out that broadband allows more people to telework and start home-based businesses, which puts less strain on the region’s transportation network.

A follow-up meeting on the topic is scheduled for later this month.

©2014 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)