Broadband in Rural Virginia
The state of Virginia estimates that 600,000 people don’t have high speed broadband. With internet speeds of 3 megabits per second, customers can go online to check their email, maybe look at their social media, and stream low quality videos- but not much else. Rural Americans want cheaper and faster internet, just like people in cities have- letting them work remotely and able to use online services.
The incredible difference in internet between urban and rural places in Virginia is due to the fact that only 53 percent of rural Virginians have access to high speed internet. Urban areas have far better coverage at 96 percent, according to a 2016 study by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
The internet providers profit more from areas that are easy to reach- leaving people in more remote, rural areas with fewer choices of internet providers and low quality service, with a higher, more expensive bill.
In Bath County, DSL internet covers 74% of people in Warm Springs with 18.87 megabits being the average speed. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) Internet is available for a little over 89% of addresses in Warm Springs.
About 59% of Warm Springs is currently without a choice so far as true broadband Internet service. This is not a surprise since competition between the incumbent providers is low. TDS Telecom is the most widespread Internet option overall. Approximately, 500 people in Bath don’t have access to any wired internet and 1,000 people do not have access to wired broadband.
According to Fauquiernow.com, Virginia lawmakers have taken steps to address geographic disparities in broadband coverage by passing a bill that will give the state’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, the green light to provide broadband internet service to unserved areas.
While that sounds great, Dominion and Appalachian Power will not give access to high speed internet straight into residents’ homes and businesses. “The Last Mile” which is the final connection, will be left to third party internet providers. The last mile brings service to the end user’s premises and is typically the most expensive component of broadband infrastructure. According to Under the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power must modernize their systems, and part of that involves bringing broadband to electrical substations to support new “smart” infrastructure initiatives.
Connectivity is critical for economic development and that’s why state officials have been concerned by the lack of broadband in rural areas. Gov. Northam made broadband expansion a priority proposing that the state spend $250 million over the next 10 years to address the unequal distribution of internet service. He announced that the distribution of rural broadband grants totaling $4.9 million that the state says will help about 15,000 households and 300 businesses access the internet.
On June 27th, Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, met with the VA Congressional Delegation where he discussed rural broadband. Senator Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said,
“Expanding access to broadband, building a 21st century transportation network, improving coastal resiliency, and ensuring an accurate count in the 2020 Census are challenges that are best addressed with a collaborative approach. As former governors, we understand the need to work together for the good of all Virginians. Today’s meeting was an opportunity to do just that.”
For more positive news, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, prevailed the other day in persuading the U.S. House of Representatives to provide $55 million more to expand broadband service across rural America, which will allow more communities in Virginia and across the nation to receive funding to improve regional, high-speed access to the internet.
I’d like to thank fauquiernow.com and also theconversation.com for some of the information I used in this story.
For AMR News, I’m Abby Dufour