by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the issues underlined by the pandemic was the need for all areas of the state to have access to broadband internet. Without access to broadband, kids (and adults) in rural areas cannot take advantage of courses offered online. To the extent that more people will be working remotely, rural areas need access to broadband in order for those people to move there. Broadband accessibility is necessary for almost all businesses and industries and rural areas will need to have such accessibility if they hope to convince private companies to bring new jobs to their areas.

Thanks to federal funding, the Commonwealth is well on its way to achieving universal availability. The source of most of that funding is the American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted in early 2021 as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to offset the economic effects of the COVID pandemic. In July of last year, the Northam administration and the General Assembly announced an agreement to allocate $700 million of the state’s ARP funding to broadband expansion. Several months later, that amount grew by  $220 million as a result of an allocation from another section of the ARP. Finally, it is expected that Virginia will get $65 million for broadband expansion from the federal infrastructure bill passed last fall.

In addition to this almost $1 billion in federal funding, there is a general fund appropriation of $50 million annually in the new state budget bill. All this new funding is on top of approximately $100 million already spent by the state on broadband expansion. It is projected that the new funding will enable the state to achieve universal availability by 2024.

The funds will be distributed through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), which is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Generally, VATI will provide grants to fund 80% of the costs of “last mile” construction. Grant recipients will be private internet service providers, who submit applications jointly with the localities they will serve.

These pandemic-related federal dollars will benefit many Virginians directly, although they may not realize the source of the money that made broadband internet available, as well as the state as a whole. However, it will be at least a couple of years before the benefits will fully be realized.

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13 responses to “Commonwealth Set for Major Broadband Expansion”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    I live in western Loudoun County… hardly the hinterland these days. Unless you live in the development clustered around towns, there is no cable and no high speed internet. If that is true in Loudoun, I am not clear how we will possibly provide it to the vast rural area of the state in my lifetime. Good to get started but expectations are probably too high right now, imo.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      I live in the hinterlands of Central Virginia and 18 months ago we obtained 1Gb/second fiber optic internet service ($89 per month) thanks to my county spending some of its early ‘Covid dollars’ to partner with a company called Firefly (owned by CVEC) to run fiber-optic cables in existing electric rights of way and easements throughout the county. As a lower cost option they also offer 100Mb service for $69 per month. Over the last year, several other counties in the area have joined the party and are working with Firefly as well.

      It’s very fast and [so far] has been very reliable. The service connection is fiber optic all the way to the router in my house.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    For all the hue and cry over virtual/remote learning , it’s not going away and in fact, it’s becoming an example of the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots’.

    But unlike roads and electricity – where we built “farm-to-market” roads and ‘rural electrification’ and rural telephones, and now rural cell towers, we are told that it’s not “profitable enough” for the cable internet companies to provide service to rural USA.

    In other words, we apparently can’t do for rural Virginia, what we did for their roads and electricity.

    we’re at a point now in the digital economy where not providing internet to rural is akin to not providing electricity.

    If we want rural Virginia kids to become better educated (beyond k-12) and contribute more to the Virginia economy, we need to get past this idea that we’re “subsidizing” it any more or less than electricity.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “In other words, we apparently can’t do for rural Virginia, what we did for their roads and electricity.”

      And what happened with the subsidies to rural areas? Did the population increase? Did businesses move to rural areas? No. Nothing happened. The world has been urbanizing for about 300 years. It’s time to stop wasting money on trying to counter the inevitable.

  3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    What do other countries like England look like when it come to rural broadband? I would like to know how we compare to other European countries. Just an interest.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      and the answer is……….. it depends on WHO you ask!

      The major for-profit internet providers in the US who are opposed to the govt getting involved – will tell you that rural internet in Europe is terrible compared to the US. It’s a bit of a game about what kind of internet via cell tower vs landline and what speeds.

      One thing I’ve noticed about Ukraine is that in many of the video reports, cell phones are ubiquitous.

      I have a circle of friends who live rural and they rely/depend on the cell phones for internet.

  4. Lefty665 Avatar

    My electric coop has been fiddling around talking about fiber on their power poles, maybe this will get them off the dime. My son’s coop has been providing him fiber broadband for a year or more.

    Musk has been sitting on my Starlink deposit for a couple of years now, maybe he will use some of the new money to actually provide service here like he does to the Ukraine.

    Looks like there are viable options. Hopefully all it will take is throwing money at it.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Broad band service to underserved areas does seem to be one of those problems that actually can be solved by “throwing money at it”.

      The money has to go to the right places/people, of course.

  5. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Increasing penetration of broadband into unserved areas will generate ripple effects creating increased demand. It’s good news all around especially for consumers.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Great. Then the underserved areas can float bonds to pay for the broadband and pay off the bonds with the economic benefits from that broadband service.

    2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

      As noted earlier, there are 15 different federal programs funding broadband expansion, according to the GAO. Based on my 40 plus years working in telecom law and regulation, a significant portion of those dollars are being skimmed off the top. If we had true accountability in government, irrespective of party politics, we could do a lot more with fewer tax dollars.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    These days, in the housing market where suburban meets rural – a very nice house, even one with a pond or other water is a deal-killer for many if it lacks broadband.

    Lots of folks are ready to jump on Elon Musk’s Starlink but it’s slow rolling out, there skeptics and it’s not cheap.

  7. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    The GAO reported that there are 15 federal programs funding the expansion of broadband. It called for the formulation of a strategic plan that coordinates all of these efforts. Other people’s money.

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