Northam announces grants bringing universal broadband to area
Published 11:34 am Thursday, December 16, 2021
Gov. Ralph Northam announced new grants Monday, Dec. 13, that will advance Virginia 90% to the goal of achieving universal access to broadband and high-speed internet, with Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and the City of Suffolk among the localities set to achieve universal coverage.
These new grants place Virginia on track to being one of the first states successfully charting a path to universal access to broadband.
The press release from the office of the governor continued by stating that this dramatic progress results from a combination of state, federal, local and private-sector investments that Virginia has accelerated over the past four years. The governor said the pandemic highlighted the need for swift and bold action to extend high-speed internet across Virginia, and he thanked the partners who made this progress possible.
“Broadband access impacts every facet of our daily lives, from education to business to health care,” Northam said. “It’s a necessity for navigating today’s digital world, and this new funding will close Virginia’s digital divide with universal broadband by 2024.”
The release noted that Virginia has taken dramatic steps on broadband since Northam took office in 2018, as Virginia’s first rural governor in a generation. He set out a clear goal: achieve universal access to broadband within 10 years. The goal was bold, as Virginia’s broadband program was investing just $4 million a year, and 660,000 Virginians did not have access to high-speed internet.
Since then, Virginia has invested more than $846 million to connect more than 429,000 Virginia homes, businesses and community anchors to broadband service. Northam recently announced that Virginia has received a record number of local and private-sector applications to leverage state broadband investments, putting the commonwealth on track to become one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024.
The Dec. 13 announcement came as Virginia allocates more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities, which will close 90% of Virginia’s digital divide. The funding — from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — will support 35 projects, connecting more than 278,000 households, businesses and community anchor institutions to high-speed internet, and leverages more than $1 billion in private and local investments, pushing the total broadband investment in Virginia to more than $2 billion over the past four years.
“Virginia and the VATI program continue to be the national model for closing the digital divide, and today’s announcement cements our success,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said Dec. 13. “This round of grants will connect more than 278,550 households/businesses to high-speed internet, ensuring more communities across the commonwealth have access to the necessities of modern life.”
The Department of Housing and Community Development administers the VATI program, which provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas that are currently unserved by a provider. Projects were selected through a competitive process that evaluated each project for demonstrated need and benefit for the community, applicant readiness and capacity, and the cost and leverage of the proposed project. The level of funding awarded is based on the infrastructure needs in the project area.
The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Charter Communications project received a $21.1 million award, with $13.8 million leveraged. This project will build fiber broadband to 12,223 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in the city of Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. The project was supported by Primis Bank through the Commonwealth Connect Fund.
In this application year, VATI received 57 applications from 84 localities that partnered with 25 internet service providers, requesting more than $943 million in funding.
Additional information on VATI is available at www.dhcd.virginia.gov/vati.