Governor Northam announced plans today to allocate $700 million in federal funds to create broadband internet access to all areas of Virginia that do not now have it — mainly rural areas of the state. The money would come from American Rescue Plan funds heading to Virginia. Northam made the announcement this afternoon in southwest Virginia, where broadband access is often limited:
The goal is statewide broadband access by 2024. It is ultimately up the General Assembly to approve the funding, and legislative leaders have already indicated they will support it.
NEWS RELEASE: ABINGDON—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia plans to invest $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to expedite the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas and close the digital divide within the next three years. This proposal will accelerate the Governor’s 10-year goal for achieving universal internet access from 2028 to 2024, with the majority of connections obligated within the next 18 months. In May, Governor Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan.
The Governor made the announcement at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon and was joined by U.S. Senator Mark Warner, State Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Luke Torian, who chair the General Assembly’s money committees, and State Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Roslyn Tyler, who lead Virginia’s Broadband Advisory Council. Governor Northam also reported that the Commonwealth has successfully bridged half of the digital divide, with an estimated 233,500 unserved locations remaining.
“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.”
Since 2018, the Commonwealth has awarded approximately $124 million in broadband grants and connected over 140,000 homes, businesses, and community anchors. Governor Northam and the General Assembly made historic investments—$50 million in 2020 and an additional $50 million in 2021—in the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), a public-private partnership that provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas currently unserved by a provider. With this $700 million allocation of federal dollars and continued state investment, the Commonwealth has the necessary resources to meet the tremendous demand from localities and broadband providers and close the digital divide in Virginia.
“With telehealth and telework becoming permanent staples across the nation, access to broadband is more critical than ever,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner. “Earlier this year, I was proud to help deliver more than $3.7 billion dollars in direct fiscal relief for the Commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan, including hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband. I’m hopeful that my friends in the General Assembly will use $700 million of that funding to expand access to broadband, thereby creating economic opportunity and ensuring that every Virginian can meaningfully participate in our 21st century economy.”
“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.”
Because Governor Northam prioritized broadband expansion well before the pandemic, Virginia is on track to be one of the first states in the country to achieve universal broadband service. In 2019, the Governor worked with the General Assembly to establish a pilot program that promotes collaboration between localities, electric utilities, and internet service providers to connect unserved areas to high-speed internet. In just two years of the pilot program, Virginia’s utility companies have helped connect more than 13,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. Earlier this year, Governor Northam signed bipartisan legislation that makes the pilot 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.”
“Funding for broadband is more critical now than ever,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We must continue to ensure that all citizens of the Commonwealth have access to quality internet access.”
“The Broadband Advisory Council has long prioritized funding to reduce the cost of broadband access and connect unserved Virginians,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko, Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “With this investment of American Rescue Plan dollars, we will greatly accelerate our progress.”
“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.”
Video of today’s announcement is available on Governor Northam’s Facebook