Virginia to Invest $700 Million to Provide Universal Broadband by 2024
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that the commonwealth will invest $700 million of federal funds to provide universal broadband to its residents by 2024.
“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,” Northam said.
“The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who also spoke at the news conference announcing the plan, called it the most comprehensive and firm commitment of any state to reach such a goal in that timeframe.
“This is a truly historic day,” said Warner, who secured the funding through the American Rescue Plan Act. “It has been a long, long time coming.”
The Virginia General Assembly is set to meet for a special session on Aug. 2 to plot a path forward for spending the funds.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the state expects to have commitments on the majority of connections in the next 18 months.
At the news conference, Northam emphasized how the COVID pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for robust internet access across the state.
He also drew a parallel between the current broadband situation and the early 1900s rise of electricity in the U.S.
Northam said by 1936, 90% of rural Virginia didn’t have access to electricity until Congress passed a bill funding the infrastructure build-out.
In late 2020, a report released by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia found that one in five Virginia students from kindergarten through college lacked either high-speed internet or a computer in the home.
Of K-12 Virginia students, 14% lacked high-speed internet service and the same was true for 10% of college students.
And while broadband coverage tends to be spottiest in rural areas, the state council report noted that nearly 40% of students without broadband in Virginia live in or around cities.
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