For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.
Surprised And Pleased
The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.
The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.
During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.
In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.
Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's approach they favor. You can review Northam's plan on his campaign website and Gillespie's plan here.
Northam's ideas for broadband expansion are part of his plan for rural Virginia, while Gillespie has published a policy paper focused only on improving connectivity. Both laud the possibilities of public-private partnerships and while Gillespie writes that he wants to "lessen regulatory burdens" he doesn't mention repealing the state barriers that discourage public investment. Northam writes that he'd like to expand projects like the one between the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Company and Microsoft.
Editors at the Times are glad to see that both candidates are seriously talking about how to improve rural Virginia’s Internet access problems, no matter how they do it:
Do those differences [between candidates] matter on rural broadband? Maybe to somebody, but they also seem statistically insignificant. Whether it’s Gillespie’s plan or Northam’s, whether it’s a walk or a hit, we’ll be happy to cheer rural Virginia getting on base with broadband.