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How Virginia plans to spend $700 million on broadband expansion

A Comcast truck outside the Virginia State Capitol.
A Comcast truck outside the Virginia State Capitol.(Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury)
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 8:22 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 9:28 AM EDT
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Virginia lawmakers agreed to devote $700 million in federal pandemic aid to broadband expansion, a sum of money they say will allow them to connect every household in the state to high-speed internet.

The money is a victory for rural localities that view high-speed internet access as critical to their survival but have struggled to convince companies to build out the infrastructure. It’s also a boon for telecommunications companies, who will receive the lion’s share of the funding to build out private, for-profit networks.

Here’s what we know about how the state plans to spend the money and what consumers can expect.

How many Virginians is this going to help and how soon will they be able to log-in?

Virginia estimates that there are currently 233,500 households and businesses without high-speed internet access. But the state can’t say for sure exactly how many people lack access because internet providers have refused to provide detailed coverage maps.

Evan Feinman, who serves as Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief broadband adviser, nonetheless says he’s confident in the estimate. And he says the lack of maps, while annoying, shouldn’t stop the state from building out networks because the state has set up a system that requires internet service providers to prove they’re already covering an area if a competitor requests funding in territory they serve.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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