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Who Needs Broadband? Virginia Pushes Forward with Expansion Despite Not Having the Answer




Some residents of Virginia still hear that annoying dial up when they connect to the Internet. The state estimates more than 600,000 residents don’t have high speed broadband. There’s a surprising barrier, but the state isn’t letting it stop them from getting people connected.  


Evan Feinman is the state’s chief broadband advisor. He says companies won’t come to a community that doesn’t have good internet access.

“I have conversations with corporate leaders who say ‘Well am I going to be able to get in touch with my manager at 1 am and will he or she be able to send me a document?’ If the answer is no that community’s off the list,” says Feinman.

That’s why the state is pushing for universal broadband within the next decade. But there’s a hurdle: private companies like Verizon and Comcast won’t actually say where the gaps are.

“If you call them and say “I live at this address can I get connected? They can tell you yes or no. They will not share that information nationally,” he says.

Feinman says that lack of a map has stopped the state from acting before. But instead of waiting, now the state is encouraging companies and localities to work together anyway.

For example, let’s say Comcast serves one corner of a rural county and the county says they’d like someone to provide coverage to the rest.

“Comcast is interested in helping us avoid having to fund an overbuild... if they don’t bid on covering the rest of the county then they’re not interested in covering the rest of the county,” Feinman explains. “So when another ISP comes in I have high confidence that when that ISP asks Comcast ‘Hey I want to cover the rest of this county, how much of that do I need to do?’ Comcast will share that information.”

So the maps wind up staying between the two companies, and the state doesn’t have to get involved with proprietary information.

Instead the state will step in when it comes to funding -- providing grants so companies can lay down the expensive infrastructure needed to reach those hard to reach places.

Lawmakers slated $19 million for the effort in this latest budget. That’s a far cry from what the Governor originally proposed, but still a significant increase over previous years.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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