BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Southwest Virginia will benefit from a major upgrade to its rural broadband infrastructure and community leaders have said it could boost education and the local economy.
Southwest Virginia will receive just over $ 111 million in US bailout funding and the Virginia Telecom Initiative. This funding was allocated during a special session on COVID-19 relief money held earlier this year.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the specific allocations Monday morning. Commonwealth communities will receive a total of more than $ 700 million, which will advance the goal of universal broadband to 2024.
Funding from ten counties in southwest Virginia to install broadband connections is distributed among regional planning commissions.
The Mount Rogers Planning District and the Point Broadband provider received more than $ 65 million to provide connection in Smyth, Washington and Wythe counties.
The Cumberland Plateau and Point Broadband Planning District Commission will receive more than $ 23 million to connect Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties.
The LENOWISCO District Planning Commission and Scott County Telephone Co-op will receive more than $ 22 million to connect Lee, Wise and Scott counties.
This funding will cover more than 44,000 connections in Southwest Virginia alone.
Virginia State Senator Todd Pillion said the use of COVID-19 relief funds made the long-awaited upgrade possible.
âWithout this government funding, we would never get this far so quickly,â Pillion said. âFinally, we can have the broadband access that our students need, that our workers need, that our homes need. “
The pandemic has helped to re-emphasize the need for a reliable connection with lawmakers and community leaders after students and workers in rural communities struggled to find internet access while learning and working from home. .
The Superintendent of Public Schools in Bristol, Virginia, Dr Keith Perrigan, is also regional chair of the Coalition of Small & Rural Schools of Virginia.
He said rural schools generally have not had difficulties with internet connection, but problems do arise when students return home.
âThere is a big homework gap in rural areas, so students who don’t have broadband access at home are at a disadvantage,â Perrigan said. âIt is a real problem of educational equity.
Perrigan said rural broadband access should help better prepare students to work in the digital age and could lead to better job opportunities down the road.
With a reliable connection possible over the next two years, Pillion said it could boost the rural economy with new businesses and workers.
âIt certainly provides an opportunity to bring businesses to our area,â Pillion said. âThere are a lot of home workers now because of the pandemic, and there are a lot of people selling outside their homes who need it as well. “
Pillion said internet service providers had plans to install the fiber-optic cable connections and work could begin in the coming months.