By Zach Armstrong
FRANKLIN, Va -- Gov. Ralph Northam visited the Workforce Development Center at Camp Community College in Franklin June 9 to sign legislation expanding broadband access to unserved areas of Virginia.
Del. Roslyn C. Tyler (D-75) (Chief patron of the Legislation) and the Governor’s Chief broadband Advisor Even Feinman joined the Governor at the signing in addition to over 75 elected officials, business and community leaders from Southside Virginia. Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) was Chief patron of the same legislation in the Senate.
The legislation makes the pilot program under which a Phase I or Phase II electric utility is permitted to petition the State Corporation Commission to provide broadband capacity to unserved areas of the Commonwealth permanent.
The bill also expands the program to allow municipalities and government-owned broadband authorities to participate and provides investor-owned electric utilities to recover costs and revenue generated from providing broadband serving as an electric grid transformation project in unserved areas. The bill consolidates the State Corporation Commission petition approval process into one hearing.
“The best single thing that we have done in the course of all of this work is the bill Gov. Northam’s about to sign here today,” Feinman said. “Bringing [American Electric Power] and Dominion into the broadband program is good for electric grids, it’s good for taxpayers, and it’s good for getting more Virginians online.”
Del. Tyler had expressed how broadband is one of the main concerns discussed in her talks with local leaders and citizens.
“Talking to local elected officials, we know that broadband is a necessity for economic development in our area,” said Tyler. “We can’t do without it. Just like water and sewer, today it is an important component when trying to recruit new business. And so, I was proud this year to introduce this piece of legislation that will expand broadband accessibility across unserved areas in the commonwealth.”
The House of Appropriation in the 2021- 2022 budget included $100 million dollars for funding localities through competitive grants. Northam compared the importance of broadband to the importance of electrification and cited how in 2018, Virginia was putting about $4 million a year into broadband expansion efforts whereas his administration would later raise it to around $20 million.
“When it started in 1920, about 35% of the population had electricity, and it’s just like broadband, everybody needs it,” said Northam. “And so they really pushed hard back in the 1920s and within a few years got up to 90% of folks having electricity, and we can do that here in Virginia. We want to be leaders, and we’re, I think, really in a good position to do that.”
“This year, in our budget, and we have the resources to do it, we’re putting $50 million a year over two years, we’re also adding $30 million from federal funding, and then we have the (American) Rescue Plan, which we’re actually working on now, so there will be more coming into broadband, but we’re not holding anything back, and I wanted you all to know that,” Northam said.
Del. Tyler also made a point of how the Covid-19 pandemic has proven the necessity of reliable internet services for education, businesses, agriculture, economic development, healthcare and more.
“As a member of the General Assembly, House Appropriations Committee and Vice-Chair of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, I will continue to seek ways to expand broadband across the 75th District and Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Tyler.