VA to invest $700M to achieve universal broadband by 2024

Funding will come from the American Rescue Plan
Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 12:01 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In a major announcement Friday, Governor Ralph Northam said Virginia will invest $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to achieve universal broadband by 2024 - four years earlier than in Northam’s original 10-year plan.

The proposal will expedite the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure in unserved areas and close the digital divide within the next three years, accelerating the governor’s plan for achieving universal internet access from 2028 to 2024. The majority of connections would be made within the coming 18 months.

“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for the health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind. With this historic $700 million investment, universal broadband is now within our reach. I am grateful to Senator Warner for fighting to include this funding in the American Rescue Plan, which will be key to the success of local connectivity efforts and to ensuring every Virginian has affordable, reliable, and equitable access to high-speed internet.”

Gov. Northam added that Virginia has already successfully bridged half of the digital divide, with an estimated 233,500 unserved locations remaining. More than 140,000 homes, businesses and community anchors have been connected since 2018, with the Commonwealth being awarded around $124 million in broadband grants since that time. The General Assembly and Governor Northam made historic investments in the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative in 2020 with $50 million and an additional $50 million in 2021. VATI is a public-private partnership that provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband services to area currently unserved by a provider.

“Localities and broadband providers have stepped up over the past three years and helped the Commonwealth connect thousands of unserved Virginians,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “With today’s announcement, large regional projects that achieve universal service can be funded across the Commonwealth without delay.”

Virginia is on track to become one of the first states in the U.S. to achieve universal broadband service, as its expansion was prioritized even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, a pilot program was established to promote collaborations between localities, electric utilities and internet service providers to connect unserved areas to high-speed internet. Since then, utility companies have helped connect more than 13,000 homes and businesses throughout the state. Earlier in 2021, Gov. Northam signed bipartisan legislation that makes the program permanent.

“The Commonwealth continues to prioritize funding for universal broadband access and I’m encouraged to see these investments coming ahead of schedule,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “This appropriation of federal dollars will go a long way towards supporting the investments that the Commonwealth has already made to bridge the digital divide.”

“I have lived in a rural area my entire life and I know that the Commonwealth benefits as a whole when we lift up all communities,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, Vice Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “This investment will have a tremendous impact on countless Virginians and allow our communities to prosper and grow.”

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