The infrastructure bill is a “blow in the arm” for the expansion of broadband Internet in rural areas

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BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) – Expanding broadband in rural communities is typically much more expensive per person than in more densely populated areas, where a mile of wire can serve many more people than a mile of wire in a rural area. As Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss explains, the natural geography of the area he oversees can add additional hurdles.

“Private dirt roads that go up the hillside that may not work well for fiber, mountains, part of mountainous terrain,” Hiss said.

In May, Bedford County issued requests for proposals to Internet service providers for universal broadband projects, anticipating that more federal funds would be made available for this specific purpose.

The county received six proposals.

“Some of them are wireless. Some of them are using our existing towers that the county has helped fund, ”Hiss said. “We have other proposals that are fiber… it’s going to end up being a combination of all of them. “

Hiss says Internet service providers will cover 30 to 50 percent of the cost, explaining that they have a financial interest in expanding broadband Internet. Federal funds will also help.

Today, the infrastructure bill going through Congress contains a number of funding proposals for roads, bridges, airports and the Internet.

Of the billions of dollars allocated to expanding broadband, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said about $ 100 million would go to Virginia. This is in addition to the $ 700 million recently announced by Governor Ralph Northam that would be allocated by the US bailout to help expand broadband.

“It’s the kick in the arm to move these objects forward,” Hiss said.

Once Virginia receives the $ 100 million, where will she go?

It’s an issue Kaine recognizes as essential when it comes to helping all areas of the state fairly.

“How can we be sure that the dollars will be used especially to serve people in hard-to-serve areas of the state,” Kaine said, “rural areas, generally southwestern Virginia.”

He says the distribution belongs to the state. The governor’s office did not respond to our request for comment, but Kaine said based on his conversations with the community in Southwest Virginia, he believes the region feels seen on this issue and will not be. forgotten.

“People view the governor’s office as very carefully analyzed where the gaps are in Virginia, and they’ve been pretty strategic in trying to invest the dollars to fill the gaps,” Kaine said.

After the expansion, there is yet another problem. Lack of competition among service providers often means that residents have only one company to turn to for service, and prices may reflect this.

“A lot of them may not be able to afford the $ 100, $ 125 a month to have that high-speed internet,” Hiss said, explaining that building the infrastructure doesn’t necessarily mean its residents will have the means to use it.

Kaine told WFXR News that some of those funds in the $ 100 million allotments would be used to improve affordability.

“To help hundreds of thousands of Virginians better able to afford broadband,” Kaine said.

Kaine says he expects the Senate to vote on the bill in the coming days.

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