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Collaboration Across the Commonwealth Advances State Broadband Goals
Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, local governments, county broadband authorities, cooperatives, and private Internet Service Providers are leveraging the influx of American Rescue Plan funds to reach the state’s goal of achieving universal access to high-speed Internet connectivity by 2024.
With $850 million in state appropriations for broadband connectivity and $1.15 billion in local government and private service providers’ funding matches, the state is on track to invest $2 billion dollars toward broadband expansion in the coming years, and is currently investing in broadband expansion projects at record levels.
In August, Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia State Legislature agreed to devote $700 million of the state’s $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to expand access to broadband. The $850 million investment the state has announced will consist mostly of American Rescue Plan aid. The funds will be administered by the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), which distributes grants to public-private partnerships to extend broadband service to unserved regions of the state, or areas that lack access to Internet service delivering connection speeds of at least 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps).
Public-Private Partnerships Deep in the Heart of Virginia
From the marsh grasslands making up Virginia’s Eastern Shore, across the three peninsulas carved out by the Chesapeake Bay, all the way to the Shenandoah Valley in the West, a diverse array of regional partnerships have formed between Virginia’s local governments, electric and telephone cooperatives, and private ISPs as broadband expansion efforts continue to advance in 2022.
A "First of Its Kind" Broadband Co-op is Born
Five electric cooperatives in three states have joined forces to form a new broadband co-op with a mission to bring high-speed Internet service to the unserved rural parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
The formation of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives (VMDABC) was announced at the start of the new year, harkening back 76 years ago when those same three states formed the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) to bring electricity to the rural areas in those states.
“This association is the first of its kind in the nation,” said VMDABC Board Chairman Casey Logan, CEO of the Waverly, Va.-based Prince George Electric Cooperative, and its broadband subsidiary, RURALBAND.
“This is truly a historic day,” Logan said when the tri-state association was announced in January. “Much like the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives was created 76 years ago during the formative years of rural electrification, today’s formal organization of a broadband association will improve the quality of life for our members.”
The VMDABC will begin its work with five founding “Class A members,” each of which are in various stages of building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks.
In addition to Prince George Electric Cooperative, the four other founding Class A members are the BARC Electric Cooperative, based in Millboro, Va., and its subsidiary, BARC Connects; the Arrington, Va.-based Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and its subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband; the Choptank Electric Cooperative in Denton, Md., and its subsidiary, Choptank Fiber LLC; and the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, based in Chase City, Va., and its subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband. Collectively, they provide electric service to 135,000 members.
Envisioning a Path Forward