Henry County is one step closer to ensuring access to broadband for homes and businesses previously unserved by high-speed internet capability.
The Harvest Foundation invested $1,491,500 in matching grant funds that leverage state and federal funding to achieve universal broadband in Martinsville-Henry County. DeWitt House, senior program officer, said broadband access is a utility to which everyone should have unrestricted access.
“From banking and paying bills to completing schoolwork, there is no end to how much we depend on the internet to live,” House said. “The digital divide was clear before, but following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of access to high-speed internet became even more pronounced. Ensuring universal access to broadband throughout Martinsville-Henry County meets our goals to grow the community and its infrastructure, but it also goes further in creating equity among MHC residents.”
Broadband expansion is a clear goal in Harvest’s strategic plan, “because we realize for us to thrive as a community, it’s essential for every household and business to have affordable high-speed internet access. The internet makes it easier for us to find jobs, receive healthcare, and learn. What happens to people who don’t have access? We have to treat broadband access as an essential service because, in this day and age, it is.”
This funding leverages resources provided by a VATI (Virginia Telecommunications Initiative) grant of $33,571,073 secured in 2021 by the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (WPPDC) to connect 10,056 unserved locations in Henry, Patrick, and Franklin counties. Other partners include RiverStreet Networks and Appalachian Power. Virginia’s DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) administers the VATI program.
Henry County’s universal broadband project includes two phases. The first phase begins in the fall and should take approximately two years to complete. Phase 1 will connect 3,058 locations identified through county research using GIS, broadband surveys, and guidance from the Virginia DHCD. Phase 2 will connect locations not previously identified in the original survey and expand broadband access to locations with internet that may not meet high-speed standards.
Pricing compared to other providers is competitive, and significant discounts as part of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program are available for low-to-moderate income families.
“Expanding broadband to everyone in our County who wants it is a priority for us,” said Henry County Administrator Dale Wagoner. “This grant is great news for our community as we continue our efforts to get broadband services to every corner of Henry County. Broadband is not only critical to creating economic opportunities for our citizens, it is needed in homes for education, telemedicine, and other needs that improve the quality of life for families. Thanks to the support of the Harvest Foundation, we’ll be able to leverage other grant funds to make universal broadband a reality in our community.”
Visit westpiedmontpdc.org/wppdc-west-broadband-project to see updates on this project and to learn more.