|Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Virginia is allocating $30 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to improve broadband access in underserved localities.
Localities must apply for the funding, and eligible projects are those able to be completed within the time constraints on spending federal dollars, which means more Virginians could get connected to high-speed, broadband internet by the end of the year.
“Broadband is to today’s economy like electricity was generations ago—when you have it, you can get ahead,” said Northam. “High-speed internet is essential for students to connect to education, business to connect to the wider world, and citizens to connect to work. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more clear, as so much of our lives have moved to virtual platforms. Since day one of our administration, we have made it a priority to increase access to broadband, and I am pleased that we can help more Virginians make those connections now, when they are needed most.”
The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia estimates that 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students in Virginia lack access to broadband at home. Universal broadband access has been a priority for the Northam administration, which has worked to support broadband infrastructure projects capable of connecting more than 108,000 homes and businesses. Northam’s current budget proposals include $85 million in investments for broadband infrastructure.
“Any part of Virginia without broadband risks being left behind in our increasingly digital world,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, chairman of the Broadband Advisory Council. “This initiative will speed up the work of connecting every corner of Virginia, so that everyone has access to opportunity.”
“Broadband access is a matter of equity, as the pandemic and the rise in virtual meetings and classes demonstrate,” said Del. Roslyn Tyler, vice chairman of the council. “Getting broadband access to rural and urban Virginia helps to ensure that everyone in Virginia moving forward together, and I applaud the Governor for devoting CARES Act funding to this critical priority.”
The CARES Act funding allocated to this initiative is separate from other broadband funding streams. Localities are encouraged to creatively address the digital divide, including projects that address infrastructure or the cost of broadband services.
Examples of eligible projects follow. Projects not listed below but related to broadband and telecommunications expansion, also will be considered.
*Broadband infrastructure capable of delivering a minimum of 25Mbps/3Mbps to Virginians currently unserved, with limited overbuilding of existing infrastructure.
*Broadband service connection costs for passings or property with high cost for individual connections, no greater than $10,000 per connection. Examples of such connections are for passings with long driveways, on a private road, or that have costs associated with a rail or highway crossing.
*Cellular transmission equipment for parts of the Commonwealth without cell service.
The program will launch Friday, Oct. 9, and only localities are eligible to apply for funding. Additional information will be provided to local chief administrative officers. Detailed program and application information will be made available at commonwealthconnect.virginia.gov.