Gov. Ralph Northam took office in 2018 with a clear vision: universal broadband access for all Virginians within a decade.
Broadband, or high-speed internet, has become a necessity, much like electricity or running water and, as of earlier this year, approximately 660,000 Virginians were being left behind.
Last summer, Northam appointed us to lead the push to connect all Virginians within 10 years and we are happy with the progress we’ve made by working together with local leaders and internet service providers. But make no mistake: There are still as many as 600,000 Virginians without access, more resources are needed and our work has just begun.
Broadband is necessary for our communities to grow. Rural Virginia communities that have seen old industries diminish and population dwindle absolutely require broadband if they’re going to be able to change their fortunes.
Even if Main Street is connected, if the surrounding community where employees will live isn’t, companies won’t locate there. Broadband brings prosperity.
Modern American civic and social life happens online. The internet helps to organize events, distribute popular culture, and connects us to those who share our profession, interests and our friends and family.
Telemedicine can help deliver care to our most remote citizens who regularly have to travel hours to receive treatment.
Broadband also has a profound impact on a child’s success. Even when income levels and demographics are the same, studies have shown that students without broadband perform markedly worse than students with broadband. It is unacceptable that any Virginia child be at a disadvantage because of geography.
Why isn’t broadband already statewide? Broadband deployment is, at its core, a math problem. You need enough paying customers to warrant the private sector spending the capital to build infrastructure to them.
Our solution is the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) program, which provides grants to public-private partnerships between localities and internet service providers. In December of last year, the governor introduced a $50 million budget for VATI.
Northam has pledged to introduce a budget of $50 million per year during the next General Assembly session for the VATI program.
We hope all who are reading this will reach out to their delegate and senator and urge them to support fully funding the broadband effort. The Northam administration, along with the Commonwealth Connect Coalition, will be advocating to get as many Virginians connected as possible.
We are racing against the clock, and racing toward the goal of equal opportunity. We’ve only finished the first lap, but we’re confident we are well on our way.