Southside Planning District Commission receives $69,431,635.

LAWRENCEVILLE – Governor Ralph Northam recently announced new grants that will advance Virginia 90% to the goal of achieving universal access to broadband and high-speed internet, placing Virginia on track to being one of the first states successfully charting a path to universal access to broadband. The announcement was made at the December meeting of the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors. The funds will be leveraged and total $84,677,555.

For clarification County Administrator Leslie Weddington said on December 13, Governor Northam’s office announced EMPOWER Broadband and the Southside Planning District Commission’s (SPDC) joint Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) application had been awarded a grant of $69 million. The grant will supplement an overall $154 million investment and reach 14,634 unserved and underserved locations in Halifax, Mecklenburg, southern Brunswick, and southern Charlotte Counties.

According to the Governor’s press release, the dramatic progress results from a combination of state, federal, local and private-sector investments that Virginia has accelerated over the past four years. The Governor said the pandemic highlighted the need for swift and bold action to extend high-speed internet across Virginia, and he thanked the partners who made this progress possible.

“Broadband access impacts every facet of our daily lives, from education to business to health care,” said Governor Northam. “It’s a necessity for navigating today’s digital world, and this new funding will close Virginia’s digital divide with universal broadband by 2024.”

Virginia has taken dramatic steps on broadband since Governor Northam took office in 2018, as Virginia’s first rural Governor in a generation. He set out a clear goal: achieve universal access to broadband within 10 years. The goal was bold, as Virginia’s broadband program was investing just $4 million a year and 660,000 Virginians did not have access to high-speed internet.

Since then, Virginia has invested more than $846 million to connect more than 429,000 Virginia homes, businesses, and community anchors to broadband service. Governor Northam recently announced that Virginia has received a record number of local and private sector applications to leverage state broadband investments, putting the Commonwealth on track to become one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024.

The announcement comes as Virginia allocates more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities, which will close 90% of Virginia’s digital divide. The funding – from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – will support 35 projects, connecting more than 278,000 households, businesses, and community anchor institutions to high-speed internet, and leverages more than $1 billion in private and local investments, pushing the total broadband investment in Virginia above $2 billion over the past four years.

“Virginia and the VATI program continue to be the national model for closing the digital divide and today’s announcement cements our success,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This round of grants will connect more than 278,550 households/businesses to high-speed internet, ensuring more communities across the Commonwealth have access to the necessities of modern life.”

The Department of Housing and Community Development administers the VATI program, which provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas that are currently unserved by a provider. Projects were selected through a competitive process that evaluated each project for demonstrated need and benefit for the community, applicant readiness and capacity, and the cost and leverage of the proposed project. The level of funding awarded is based on the infrastructure needs in the project area.

In this application year, VATI received 57 applications from 84 localities that partnered with 25 internet service providers, requesting more than $943 million in funding. A total of 34 other localities received funding.

During the citizen comment period, David Daniel said he lives on Iron Bridge Road and expressed concern about not having access to broadband. He said he was pleased for the people who have access but wonders when Dominion Energy will offer the service. Daniel praised Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative for its effort to provide broadband service to its customers. Daniel said he would welcome feedback from the supervisors.