JAMES CITY COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Hundreds of thousands of Virginians still only have access to out-of-date internet connections like dial-up according to state officials. Updating the infrastructure takes money, and a lot of it.
The FCC just authorized $84.5 million to bring broadband to more than 32,000 rural Virginians. The money comes from the FCC’s Connect America Phase II Auction. The federal government awards bids to private providers who can build out the best service in rural areas at the lowest cost.
Some Virginians, like William Marshall, have waited years for access to affordable internet.
We first did a report on Marshall’s struggle to get internet to his home in rural Toano back in February.
“The church has it. Neighbors have it. Mother has it, brother has it. But they say it’s not in front of my house,” explained Marshall.
Cox Communications initially quoted him $6,800 to extend the broadband line to his house. They dropped the price to $3,400, but that was still too much overhead for Marshall. He’s disabled and lives on a limited income.
His son Hunter will start 6th grade soon. Hunter will receive a laptop, and access to the internet will be essential for his future academic success.
However good news is on the horizon for the Marshalls.
$89,000 from the FCC fund is dedicated to connecting 22 rural homes in James City County. The Marshalls are on the list.
FCC official Mark Wigfield says the concept of universal service is part of their core mission.
“When the FCC was founded basically, back in the 30s, one of its missions was determined to be universal service,” explained Wigfield. “Meaning that all Americans should have access to communication services at affordable rates.”
In the 1930s that meant laying phone lines. Today it’s broadband.
“It is a process. It’s not going to fix it all but this is a good chunk of it,” said Wigfield. “So and then we’ll take another chunk of it next year.”
The state government is also working on the issue. According to a January report, 660,000 Virginians still lack access to a high quality internet connection.
“So leaving those folks behind is just not the kind of Virginia we want to live in and it’s not what we’re going to do,” said Evan Feinman, the governor’s advisory on broadband.
Governor Northam unveiled a plan to connect everyone in the commonwealth within 10 years. So far his administration has dedicated $25 million to connect 70,000 homes. Although officials say the “10 year mark” is a conservative estimate, they hope to connect everyone much faster.
“We need to move faster,” said Feinman. “You can’t tell somebody with a child in second grade, ‘hey we’ll get you online sometime around their high school graduation.’ That doesn’t work. So we’re hitting the gas and we’re trying to move as fast as we can.”
If you live in a rural area and need access to broadband, contact your local and state delegates and let them know so they can advocate for you.
The FCC will authorize another wave of funding next year.
The General Assembly in Richmond votes on the amount of funding for the Governor’s Broadband Initiative in the yearly budget.