Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that the commonwealth will use $700 million in Federal funding to achieve “universal broadband” by 2024.
The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan, will be used to expedite the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas and close the digital divide within the next three years. Gov. Northam’s office said that the new funding will accelerate Northam’s 10-year goal for achieving universal internet access from 2028 to 2024, with the majority of connections obligated within the next 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 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.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the push to close the digital divide, since 2018 the commonwealth has awarded roughly $124 million in broadband grants and connected over 140,000 homes, businesses, and community anchors. During the pandemic, Virginia’s leaders have invested $100 million in the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, a public-private partnership that provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas currently unserved by a provider.
With the additional $700 million in Federal funding, the governor’s office said Virginia now has “the necessary resources to meet the tremendous demand from localities and broadband providers and close the digital divide in Virginia.”
“Localities and broadband providers have stepped up over the past three years and helped the Commonwealth connect thousands of unserved Virginians,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “With [the latest] announcement, large regional projects that achieve universal service can be funded across the Commonwealth without delay.”