The Hottest Topic in 2021: Keeping People Connected

Last year brought increased visibility to the importance of broadband. With many Virginians teleworking, students distance learning, and businesses trying to stay afloat by offering services online, broadband was at the epicenter of how we managed our “new normal.”

As we start the first chapter of 2021, I have no doubt that keeping people connected in the truest sense will remain a hot topic especially when it comes to broadband and internet connectivity. The fact is, it’s a complex issue with two very important yet different components intertwined in the conversation: accessibility and affordability.

Here’s how we at Cox are committed to keeping people, businesses and communities connected.

Accessibility

Clearly, the Commonwealth is a great place to live, work and raise a family. CNBC recently ranked Virginia as the number one state for business. Additionally, we’re ranked 14th in the world for fastest peak Internet connection speed according to the Internet & Television Association.

We know that despite this, there are residents who still don’t have access to internet service in the more rural areas of Virginia. The issue is there’s no infrastructure in place to bring them broadband services. Some may tell you the only solution is municipal broadband, but I beg to differ.

Cox is the largest private telecommunications company in America. To offer the services available today, we’ve invested more than $16 billion in our nationwide fiber-based network over the last decade. And, to be ready for future demands, including bringing 10 gigabit broadband speeds to every home in our service area, we’re already planning to invest an additional $10 billion over the next five years.

Building, operating, maintaining and upgrading a broadband network is a capital-intensive business – the numbers speak for themselves. That’s why it is vital that when attempting to reach unserved areas, we look for win-win partnerships. These partnerships aren’t to cover our ongoing costs, but rather to help cover the one-time engineering and construction costs associated with these projects. For example, we recently worked with Roanoke County to connect residents in their rural communities. This wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership, support, and investment from both parties.

In Hampton Roads, we partnered with Gloucester County and were awarded a Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant to deploy broadband fiber to unserved areas of the county. Working together meant we successfully completed construction of six miles of fiber in a previously unserved area, connecting approximately 120 homes and businesses to reliable, high-speed internet.

We continually look for partnerships that will bring connectivity to all residents in our service area and advocate for an equitable use of federal and state grant funding to make that happen. And, as we continue to collaborate with our localities, building out infrastructure necessary to connect all residents in Virginia will remain high on our priority list.

Affordability

Once the network is built in the community, we can now address the second issue people face when trying to access the internet: affordability. Many families don’t have internet at home not because it isn’t readily available but because they can’t afford it. Children in those families are at risk of falling behind in school, especially now.

According to Common Sense Media, 16 million students and nearly 400,000 teachers in America don’t have adequate internet access to support distance learning. Yes, those numbers are alarming, but the fact is we’re actively doing something about it.

Our Connect2Compete program offers low-cost internet to families with K-12 students, eligible for government assistance. With no annual contract or fees, these families can get reliable broadband at home for only $9.95 a month. Last year alone we connected more than 5,000 Virginian households.

And we’re also connecting school districts looking to utilize their CARES Act funding through Cox CARES Act Solutions for Education. Through this program, we work directly with schools to fast-track services for virtual learning. Most importantly, districts can subsidize internet for students, teachers and staff in ways that work best for them.

But having internet at home is useless without a device and the skills to navigate the web safely. That’s why we partnered with organizations like the Urban League of Hampton Roads and Fairfax County’s Family and Social Services to get laptops into the hands of children and teens who need them most. Additionally, anyone can access free resources on computer literacy and online safety via the Cox Digital Academy.

The fact is no one business, government or nonprofit can bridge the digital divide alone. It’s going to take all of us championing digital inclusion to solve this.

Championing Digital Inclusion

Cox is here for the long haul. Whether it’s business as usual, a global event or national cultural shift that shakes us to our core, we’re here supporting our employees, customers and communities. In fact, we’ve survived crazy times before… previous world wars, economic downturns, social unrest and past pandemics. For more than a century, Cox has been here and will continue to be here, keeping people connected.

Why? Because we believe in building a better future for the next generation, and this involves ensuring that our future workforce is prepared – digital inclusion through broadband is key to this.

The fact is, people use our network to call their loved ones, to hold meetings with international colleagues and to check in with patients. But we are so much more than a broadband service provider. We also awarded grants to food banks that were on the verge of closing their doors, provided PPE to hospitals, and volunteered to call seniors facing isolation right now. The fact is, not only do we have the technology to bring people closer, we have a culture that puts people first.

We’re committed to living out the values set in place by our founder Governor James M. Cox; to build a better tomorrow for the next generation. We’ll continue leading the way, partnering with local organizations, ensuring people stay connected and stay working so Virginia can continue to be a best place for business.

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Born in Newfoundland, having lived in both Montreal and Lagos, Nneka knew at an early age that America is the land of opportunity.

Over a twenty-three-year career in the telecommunications industry in United States, Nneka began her career at Verizon working her way up to Vice President of Public Policy. Now at Cox Communications, Nneka is the Regional Vice President of Public and Government Affairs for Virginia and North Carolina.

She has earned degrees and certifications in Computer Science, Telecommunications Management, Project Management and Leadership from Harvard Business School, Georgetown University, Concordia University (Canada), University of Maryland.

Nneka is the host of a new community engagement show, In Good Company! She’s looking for guests who can advance the conversation about diversity and inclusion globally. If you’re interested in appearing on the show, please email [email protected]