WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of the Treasury recently announced that Virginia is one of four states poised to expand access to rural high-speed internet service.
Under the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, Virginia received $219.8 million, which represents 100% of the state’s available CPF funding. The money will pay for expansion of broadband access to an estimated 76,873 locations. Approximately 28% of Virginia locales lack access to high-quality broadband service, a reality that negatively impacts farmers and other rural residents.
Groups like Virginia Farm Bureau Federation have long advocated for expanded connectivity statewide and are celebrating the recent announcement.
“This is music to my ears,” said Virginia Farm Bureau Federation President Wayne F. Pryor. “Just like farms needed electricity and phone service a century ago, rural Virginia cannot fully thrive without broadband internet. Anyone offline is missing connections to buyers, suppliers, news, educational resources, and vital medical services. Rural Virginia will certainly benefit from this, and farmers too.”
Accomack County Farm Bureau member Lynn Gayle is a row crop farmer in rural Onancock on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where it’s difficult to get reliable internet connectivity for home use and farmwork. He’s had to invest in workarounds—installing wireless data connections within his tractors to transmit daily crop data to John Deere’s central database.
“But a lot of other devices and website designs require high data flow,” he said. “Without a high-speed connection, data loads very slowly, and it gets pretty cumbersome.”
The treasury’s broadband funding should help close that gap, but Gayle noted the Eastern Shore’s unique geography may present infrastructure challenges.
“Those are issues they’ll have to figure out, but this is encouraging,” he said. “It’s just like the rural electrification decades ago.”
In Virginia, local governments in partnership with internet service providers can apply for funding through a competitive grant program overseen by the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative.
Other states receiving first-round funding are Louisiana, New Hampshire and West Virginia, connecting over 200,000 homes and businesses to broadband. The first large waves of federal funding lay the groundwork for future funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The $10 billion in project funding aims to deliver internet service that meets or exceeds speeds of 100 megabits per second. All service providers are required to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s new Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps ensure households can afford broadband, with a discount of up to $30 per month.