The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to some of the greatest geographic and economic diversity in the country. From the nation’s capital to the Chesapeake Bay and the Appalachian Plateau, Virginia can feel like a different state at all four corners.
Despite this diversity, state government officials are squarely focused on closing its digital divide in every city and county. Developing broadband solutions that fit communities from the coastline of Virginia Beach to the towering mountains of Tazewell County is an ongoing challenge. Still, every city, town, and county across the Commonwealth is united in the goal to connect students and employees to digital opportunities.
In 2018, two under-sea, transatlantic high-speed cables were anchored in Virginia Beach and introduced some of the fastest Internet speeds in the world to Virginia’s shores. Microsoft, one of the cable sponsors, stated that speeds are “16 million times faster than the average home internet connection, with the ability to stream 71 million high-definition videos simultaneously.” The US Navy, colleges, and growing businesses in the Hampton Roads region are already experiencing the benefits.
To expand those benefits, cities in the Southside are taking their advocacy a step further by creating the Southside Network Authority, the newest broadband authority in Virginia. Local leaders from the five partner cities – Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Portsmouth hope to deploy a new fiber ring that will support business and residential broadband deployment across the region.
While many Southeastern Virginia residents have reliable broadband options, Western and Southwestern Virginia communities continue to face an uphill challenge. Leaders are working to overcome rural deployment challenges while also battling high levels of poverty.
In Roanoke City and Salem, two NCC member municipalities, leaders are tapping into Virginia’s most significant resource: collaboration. These communities partnered with the Roanoke County and others in the Roanoke Metro Area to form the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. The agency deployed over 100 miles of fiber backbone across the region. Next, the authority will begin its transition into residential service.
State-level action can help to facilitate partnerships across municipalities. For instance, the Virginia General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam have taken a forward-looking stance toward broadband deployment. The Governor’s chief broadband advisor, Evan Feinman, recently emphasized in an interview, “It is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of Virginians aren’t enjoying a standard of living that most Virginians would consider necessary.”
The Virginia Telecommunications Initiative also updated grant guidance and now allows public applicants, including municipalities and broadband authorities, to apply for funding without a private partner. This change is a significant step for a state that previously enforced significant challenges to publicly supported broadband networks. In effect, it also bolsters innovative partnership models.
Governor Ralph Northam has set the ambitious goal of universal connectivity across Virginia by 2028. With seven years to deliver on this promise, the state is making significant progress.
Virginia’s General Assembly is considering legislation to open more opportunities for community broadband solutions and removing barriers to deployment. While some communities benefit from Virginia Beach’s new undersea cable, other municipalities, such as Wise County, still rely heavily on satellite providers to receive any connection.
We must afford equal opportunity to all Virginians to participate in modern society, to do business in the modern economy, and to receive the services to which they’re entitled. Virginians deserve access to those opportunities regardless of where they’re born, and it’s our Commonwealth’s moral obligation to ensure that becomes reality.
As more communities seek broadband solutions that outlast the pandemic, partnerships will be vital to getting every Virginia household online.