Va. on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024
Northam says $2B in public, private funds going toward effort
The state government expects to achieve universal broadband access in Virginia by 2024, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday, with more than $2 billion in public and private-sector funding going toward the effort.
Northam’s original pledge in 2018 was to provide broadband access to the whole state by 2028, but with federal COVID-19 relief funds received by the state in 2020 and 2021, he moved up the deadline to 2024 in July. At the time, the governor said he wanted to spend $700 million of $4.3 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan on expanding internet access. On Tuesday, he said he expects more than a billion in matching funds from local and private sectors, in addition to the total $874 million appropriated by the state since 2018.
Virginia is currently the 15th most connected state in the country, but only 91.1% of Virginians have access to broadband internet with speeds of 100 mbps or faster, according to BroadbandNow, a trade site that publishes independent research on broadband and also provides data from the Federal Communications Commission.
“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” Northam said in a statement. “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.”
When Northam took office in 2018, the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative was investing only $4 million a year in broadband expansion, and 660,000 Virginia residents did not have access to high-speed internet. Since then, the state has awarded $124 million in grants to connect more than 140,000 homes, businesses and other institutions, the governor’s office said, and VATI has awarded $94 million to 39 projects in 41 counties. Last month, VATI received 57 applications from 84 localities requesting $943 million to connect more than 250,000 homes and businesses; the state Department of Housing and Community Development is reviewing applications to make awards by the end of the year.
“Ensuring that rural Virginians have access to broadband is the No. 1 way we can make sure they have equal access to the economic, educational and health opportunities that broadband provides,” state Del. Roslyn Tyler, vice chair of the Broadband Advisory Council, said in a statement. “No Virginian should be left behind. Thanks to Gov. 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.”