GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. — Bob Warwick and his wife lived years without high-speed internet in central Goochland County.
“We were trying to exist on dial up lines and then we had a MiFi [hotspot],” Warwick recalled.
His family struggled with connectivity and capacity problems until their subdivision paid Comcast $40,000.
“We had everyone in the subdivision put in between $800 and $900 to get them to bring the lines out,” Warwick explained.
Now, the government is paying to deliver broadband internet to every home in Virginia.
On Wednesday, Goochland leaders, Dominion Energy, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Firefly Fiber Broadband celebrated a more than $21 million deal to expand internet across the county. Much of the funds will be paid by American Rescue Fund and grants from the state.
“We understand a rural lifestyle come with a bit of inconvenience but broadband now is not an inconvenience, it’s a necessity,” said Neil Spoonhower, Goochland County District 2 Supervisor.
The pandemic proved that internet access is a utility much like the water and electricity that feeds into your home.
“From getting medical care, to searching for a job, from doing homework and sometimes even to attend classes you have to have internet,” said Charlene Whitfield, Senior Vice President of Power Deliver with Dominion Energy.
Last Summer, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $700 million from pandemic relief funds to boost broadband access.
Evan Feinman, Northam’s Chief Broadband Advisor, said almost 660,000 Virginians couldn’t get online just five years ago.
“We have right around 233,000 homes and businesses,” he explained. “That is a tremendous accomplishment and still a huge task that needs accomplishing.”
The Commonwealth will receive another $100 million in grants to finish the job when President Joe Biden signs his infrastructure bill.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Tuesday outlined the broadband expansion provisions that are in the bipartisan package. The plan includes two basic goals for broadband: providing the physical infrastructure and fiber for broadband in rural areas and making it more affordable for Americans in general.
“The Infrastructure Investment Act allocates $65 billion to expand broadband in communities all across America, to create low-cost options and subsidize the cost of service for those who need it,” stated Raimondo.
Each state will receive $100 million in grant funding while the rest of the money will be allocated based on need.
States will be required to submit a plan to increase access to high-speed and affordable internet. The focus of the money will be on areas where broadband doesn’t currently exist.
“If we continue to stay the course, we will be the first state in the Union with universal broadband coverage,” Feinman said. “All we need to do is continue as we have been.”