The hamlet of Head Waters in Highland County was rated between “unserved” and “underserved” for high-speed internet access in 2018. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Legislation creating a plan to expand affordable broadband access across the commonwealth is on the way to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk with broad bipartisan support.
HB 1265, by Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun, charges the state Department of Housing and Community Development with creating a plan to deliver recommendations to the General Assembly and Youngkin by Dec. 1. Designing a map and blueprint to establish the areas in the state that are in most need of broadband access is among the tasks agency will have to tackle before the end of the year.
“This is a great way to both create a roadmap, as well as position ourselves at the front of the line for these federal programs, because without this it’s going to be a lot harder to be in a good position to get this federal money,” Subramanyam said at a House General Laws committee meeting last month. “That is why the bill is purposefully a bit vague, a bit broad when it comes to exactly what the plan will encompass because we want it to be tailored and be flexible for being responsive to those federal grant programs.”
The plan, which was more popular in the Senate than in the House – it passed the lower chamber with 89 votes compared to unanimous support in the Senate – would make Virginia a top candidate to receive up to $600 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, proponents said.
Since the law is aimed at garnering federal funding, the department will have to assess how to use existing grants. The bill also requires that the plan takes into consideration public outreach strategies.
“While Virginia has been a leader in broadband deployment, making broadband affordable to all has been a major challenge,” Subramanyam said. “A comprehensive plan for broadband affordability has been long overdue, and this legislation will make broadband affordable to tens of thousands of Virginians in all parts of the Commonwealth.”
Lawmakers have already made strides to bring high-speed internet to Virginians. Last August, they agreed to spend $700 million in federal pandemic aid to expand the infrastructure.
Continuing to build broadband infrastructure and making it affordable are essential parts of the commonwealth’s plan to bring access to 50,000 Virginians without service, said Ray LaMura, president of the Broadband Association of Virginia, at the committee meeting last month.
“When the federal dollars come in, you will have a vehicle right out the door to those who need it the most,” he said.
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