Foundation pledges $1.15M to expand broadband in Dinwiddie and Sussex

By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va -- The Cameron Foundation has committed up to $1,150,000 in funds to improve broadband access in Dinwiddie and Sussex counties.

The awards are being made to Governor Northam’s Commonwealth Connect Fund and are restricted to broadband construction in those two localities. The fund was created to expand broadband access to underserved locations in Virginia. The Cameron Foundation will coordinate with Dinwiddie and Sussex counties to match other potential funding for these efforts.

The foundation has pledged up to $650,000 for broadband expansion in Dinwiddie County which, according to Federal Communications Commission mapping, has more than 5,000 locations lacking access to broadband.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health’s website, both localities lag far behind Virginia’s rates in broadband equity indicators. In Dinwiddie County, 74.5% of households have a broadband subscription, compared with the Virginia rate of 83.9%. In Sussex, the rate is 66.4%.

While Virginia’s rate of residents without broadband access is 4.4%, the population without broadband access in Dinwiddie and Sussex is 34% and 21.6%, respectively.

“Universal broadband continues to be a top priority of our Board of Supervisors. This generous support of The Cameron Foundation, combined with state and local funding, will position us to make universal broadband a reality in Dinwiddie County,” said W. Kevin Massengill, Dinwiddie County Administrator in a release.

“This is a rare opportunity to work in partnership with the private sector as well as local, state and federal agencies to bring about transformational change in some of the rural communities we serve,” said The Cameron Foundation’s President, J. Todd Graham in a release.

Demand for internet access soared during the pandemic as individuals required it for work and study from home, applying for unemployment benefits, seeing friends, and visiting doctors. Tens of millions of Americans, particularly in rural localities, either lack access to or cannot afford quality internet service.

“The COVID-19 pandemic elevated the critical nature of access to fast and affordable internet service for people. The importance of engaging in a collaborative effort to create universal broadband access in some of our local rural counties cannot be overstated,” Graham said.

The Foundation also has committed up to $500,000 to build out fiber broadband connections to unserved areas of Sussex County. The Federal Communications Commission shows more than 4,000 homes and businesses fall into that category.

Sussex County Administrator Richard Douglas stated in a release that, “Through this plan, we are working to close gaps in both access and affordability for our community.”

While some funding is secured, both localities are still pursuing state funds

to raise balances needed to achieve universal broadband access in their

counties. If successful, work can begin as early as the summer of 2022.

The Cameron Foundation, founded in 2003, is a private foundation that was formed from the proceeds of the sale of Southside Regional Medical Center by the Hospital Authority of the City of Petersburg. Since the Foundation began grantmaking in 2004, it has awarded more than $97 million to organizations serving residents of this area.