Mapping a future

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Virginia has mapped out its future in connectivity, literally.

Gov. Tim Kaine has unveiled the state’s first broadband availability map. It shows which parts of Virginia currently have high-speed Internet access and which parts don’t. Armed with the data, officials hope to get more of the state wired.

“Affordable high-speed telecommunication services for all citizens are essential to Virginia’s success in the 21st century economy,” Kaine said.

“Franklin Southampton has been hit hard by several business closings and downsizings and unemployment levels are climbing steadily, so the economic distress level grows,” said John Smolak, president of Franklin Southampton Economic Development. “The potential to complete this broadband gap not only makes the overall region more competitive but adds a new dimension to our local economic development efforts. Diversifying the economic base of our region to be competitive for new technology related business development and giving our existing businesses a chance to expand and grow are key factors.”

Broadband has become an important tool for businesses as well as individuals.

“Really, it is no longer a luxury; it’s becoming more like a utility,” said Karen Jackson, director of the state Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance. “You really can’t do without it.”

Virginia’s broadband availability map was released May 14. It was compiled with data from the state’s Center for Innovative Technology, Virginia Information Technology Agency and more than 25 service providers.

Virginia is among a handful of states that have such a map. Jackson said Virginia is the only state to develop a broadband availability map at no cost to citizens.

For several years, Virginia has been working on expanding broadband to areas without the service. About 700 miles of broadband lines were installed while Mark Warner was governor from 2002 to 2006.

“Broadband access is a priority for my administration, and we intend to build on the successes of the Warner administration,” Kaine said.

Kaine and other state officials hope the federal government’s economic stimulus plan will help fund Virginia’s broadband expansion projects.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will allocate $7.2 billion toward broadband funding. This month, federal officials plan to release the rules for applying for the stimulus money.

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson said once federal funding is secured, the county will take about 18-24 months to put towers in strategic locations to bring wireless service to the majority of the county.

“Access to high-speed Internet is the real equalizer,” he said. “ It would provide enormous opportunities for our citizens to plug into the World Wide Web.”