Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at an event titled “Transforming Rails in Virginia” at Amtrak-VRE Station on March 30, 2021 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced Friday that the Commonwealth will invest $700 million in federal funds to provide universal broadband to its residents by 2024.
The plan is the most comprehensive and firm commitment of any state to reach such a target on that time frame, according to Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, who announced the initiative at a press conference. The 2024 target is four years ahead of Northam’s earlier target.
According to a press release, the state expects commitments on most of the connections in the next 18 months.
Demonstrating the scale of the commitment, Jennifer Boysco, a Democratic state senator who chairs the Broadband Advisory Board, said in 2016, she was allocated just $1 million to spend on broadband across Virginia.
According to Northam, more than $4 billion was allocated to Virginia through a US rescue plan passed by Congress. In the press conference, he emphasized on how the COVID pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for strong internet access across the state.
At the height of the pandemic-induced distance learning in late 2020, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia released a report that found that one in five Virginia students kindergarten through college had high-speed internet or access to high-speed internet access at home. There was a shortage of computers. 14% of K-12 Virginia students lacked high-speed Internet service, and the same was true for 10% of college students.
Broadband coverage is scarce in rural areas, although a State Council report states that approximately 40% of Virginia students without broadband live in or near cities.
Northam drew a parallel between the current broadband situation and the rise of electricity in the US in the early 1900s, he noted that by 1936, 90% of rural Virginia had no access to electricity, until Congress approved building infrastructure. A bill was not passed for
Warner ranked the initiative as an opportunity for Virginia, recently ranked the top state for business by CNBC, to attract more jobs to the state.
“If you don’t have high-speed Internet broadband in 2021, you’re not going to see reasonably any company that wants to find or bring jobs here or clearly some of our people who want to be here,” Warner said.
Other states have announced plans for expanded or universal broadband access at different time frames. For example, the governor of Connecticut has drawn up a plan to expand broadband coverage to all residents by 2027. A state broadband council in California last year released a lengthy plan for how it would encourage accelerated broadband deployment in the state with the goal of universal, affordable coverage.
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