Billions earmarked for broadband

Published 2:03 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

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Governor Northam announced that Virginia has received a record number of local and private sector applications to match state broadband investments, putting the commonwealth on track to become one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024. Virginia anticipates more than $2 billion in total broadband funding thanks to local and private sector matching funds that go beyond the $874 million in state appropriations since the governor took office in 2018.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” Northam said. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic pushed us all to move even faster. Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024, which means more connections, more investments, easier online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia.”

The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative is the commonwealth’s broadband program. It was started in 2017 to fund public-private partnerships to extend broadband service to areas unserved by an internet service provider. When the most recent application round closed last month, the program received 57 applications from 84 localities, requesting $943 million to connect more than 250,000 Virginia homes and businesses. These applications leverage $1.15 billion in private and local matching funds. The Department of Housing and Community Development is reviewing applications and expects to award the funds by the end of the year.

Virginia has taken dramatic steps on broadband since Northam took office in 2018, as Virginia’s first rural governor in a generation. He set out a clear goal: achieve universal access to broadband within 10 years. The goal was bold, as Virginia’s broadband program was investing just $4 million a year and 660,000 Virginians did not have access to high-speed internet.

Since then, Northam and the General Assembly have awarded $124 million in grants to connect more than 140,000 homes, businesses and community organizations. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative has awarded 39 projects in 41 different counties, supported by over $94 million in matching private and local funds. Along with private investment and federal broadband grants, the commonwealth has reduced the digital divide by 65%. Plans accelerated further in August, when Northam and the General Assembly allocated $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to broadband, moving the original goal for achieving universal access to 2024.

“Ensuring that rural Virginians have access to broadband is the number one way we can make sure they have equal access to the economic, educational and health opportunities that broadband provides,” Broadband Advisory Council Vice-Chair Delegate Roslyn Tyler said. “No Virginian should be left behind. Thanks to Governor Northam’s commitment to get universal broadband done, we’re seeing record levels of public and private sector matching funds, and we’ll have this critical infrastructure available to all Virginians more quickly than we imagined.”

“Broadband is a vital resource for communities across the Commonwealth,” Broadband Advisory Council Chair Senator Jennifer Boysko said. “Broadband access allows our citizens to connect to their workplaces, schools and doctors and broadens their opportunities and choices about where to live and work. The Northam administration’s investment in broadband, paired with these matching funds, will get universal broadband access to Virginians in record time.”