ABINGDON, Va. — Virginia is investing $700 million in federal COVID relief funds into extending broadband internet to rural and underserved areas of the state.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced plans to put American Rescue Plan money into a universal broadband effort. Virginia has an estimated 233,500 “unserved” locations needing internet infrastructure and access.
Internet access are also a problem on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in rural and underserved communities.
“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” Northam said.. “The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for the health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind. With this historic $700 million investment, universal broadband is now within our reach. I am grateful to Senator Warner for fighting to include this funding in the American Rescue Plan, which will be key to the success of local connectivity efforts and to ensuring every Virginian has affordable, reliable, and equitable access to high-speed internet.”
Lack of internet access was magnified during the coronavirus pandemic when schools and workplaces were closed and workers and students need to connect from home. Some students and workers struggled in rural parts of Virginia and Maryland to connect for classes and their jobs because where they live lacks internet infrastructure.
“With telehealth and telework becoming permanent staples across the nation, access to broadband is more critical than ever,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “Earlier this year, I was proud to help deliver more than $3.7 billion dollars in direct fiscal relief for the Commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan, including hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband. I’m hopeful that my friends in the General Assembly will use $700 million of that funding to expand access to broadband, thereby creating economic opportunity and ensuring that every Virginian can meaningfully participate in our 21st century economy.”