Virginia has received a record number of local and private sector applications to match state broadband investments, putting the Commonwealth on track to become one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024, according to Gov. Ralph Northam.
Virginia anticipates more than $2 billion in total broadband funding, thanks to local and private sector matching funds that go beyond the $874 million in state appropriations since Northam took office in 2018.
“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic pushed us all to move even faster. Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024, which means more connections, more investments, easier online learning, and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia.”
The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative is the Commonwealth’s broadband program. It was started in 2017 to fund public-private partnerships to extend broadband service to areas unserved by an internet service provider. When the most recent application round closed last month, the program received 57 applications from 84 localities, requesting $943 million to connect more than 250,000 Virginia homes and businesses. These applications leverage $1.15 billion in private and local matching funds. The Department of Housing and Community Development is reviewing applications and expects to award the funds by the end of the year.
Virginia has taken dramatic steps on broadband since Northam took office in 2018, according to a release. 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, Northam and the General Assembly have awarded $124 million in grants to connect more than 140,000 homes, businesses, and community organizations. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative has awarded 39 projects in 41 different counties, supported by over $94 million in matching private and local funds. Along with private investment and federal broadband grants, the Commonwealth has reduced the digital divide by 65 percent. Plans accelerated further in August, when Northam and the General Assembly allocated $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to broadband, moving the original goal for achieving universal access to 2024.
The overwhelming response to this year’s Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant round demonstrates that Virginia has built an innovative and successful model for bridging the digital divide.