Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced new grants that will advance Virginia 90 percent to the goal of achieving universal access to broadband and high-speed internet, placing Virginia on track to being one of the first states successfully charting a path to universal access to broadband.

The grants include projects for Franklin and Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties.

The 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,” said Northam. “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.”

Virginia has taken 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, according to Northam’s administration, 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 Virginian 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.

This announcement comes as Virginia allocates more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities, which will close 90 percent 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 above $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,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “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. 

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. Here are the awards for the surrounding area:

• West Piedmont Planning District Commission and RiverStreet Networks: $87,003,888 award; $65,421,347 leveraged. The project will build fiber broadband to 24,641 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Amelia, Bedford, Campbell, Charlotte, Nottoway, and Pittsylvania Counties when combined with other projects.

• Franklin County and Shentel: $9,832,456 award; $14,722,315 leveraged. The project will build fiber and wireless broadband to 3,508 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Franklin County when combined with other projects. 

• Bedford County and Shentel: $8,642,313 award; $17,546,515 leveraged. The project will build fiber and wireless broadband to 5,565 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Bedford County when combined with other projects.

• Bedford County and ZiTEL: $8,523,908.31 award; $10,208,347.39 leveraged. The project will build fiber broadband to 4,114 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Bedford County when combined with other projects.

Read more stories in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. If subscribed, view the e-edition version at www.smithmountaineagle.com/eedition. If not subscribed, pick up a print edition or subscribe at www.smithmountaineagle.com/subscriber_services.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.