In May of this year, Governor Ralph Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan. Governor Northam recently 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. The governor 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 services like the twenty-first 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.”
Since 2018, the commonwealth has awarded approximately $124 million in broadband grants and connected more than 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.
Since 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.