Through federal investment and state-awarded grants, almost 60,000 rural Virginia households are expected to get broadband internet services.
On Jan. 9 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it invested $48 million in broadband infrastructure that will encompass a service area of 1,847 miles in Virginia. On Jan. 22 Gov. Ralph Northam announced $18.3 million in grants to 12 projects aimed at expanding services to currently unserved areas across the state. Both deals are viewed as significant wins for local farmers.
“This funding will contribute significantly to the number of farmers and their families across rural Virginia who are able to live and work more efficiently thanks to broadband connectivity,” said Ben Rowe, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation national affairs coordinator. “The benefits will not only be felt in economic terms with greater access to markets and customers, but will yield environmental benefits through enabling use of precision agriculture equipment and health benefits in the form of access to physical and mental health telemedicine resources.”
As part of its ReConnect Pilot Program aimed at expanding broadband service nationally, the USDA invested $48 million in North Carolina-based Wilkes Telephone Membership Corp. The agreement will lead to broadband access for 22,604 households, 19 educational facilities, eight community facilities and healthcare centers in Bedford, Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, King and Queen, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties.
The $18.3 million in state grants provided by the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative will leverage more than $35 million in local and private matching funds to further expand broadband services in Virginia.
More than 36,000 households and thousands of businesses in Albemarle, Charles City, Franklin, Grayson, Halifax, King and Queen, Patrick, Stafford and Surry counties, as well as the Central Shenandoah, Cumberland Plateau and LENOWISCO planning district commissions, will be connected to broadband as Northam works toward his goal of universal broadband in Virginia.
“We are fortunate to have a governor who is from rural Virginia, and I think Gov. Northam really understands this issue,” said Kristie Proctor, executive director of the Center for Rural Virginia.
“Regardless if you live in a served or an unserved area, every person faces this epidemic,” Proctor said. “At the end of the day, if we want Virginia as a whole to thrive, we need to have equitable and reliable high-speed internet throughout the state.”