Efforts to bring broadband internet service to rural areas in Virginia could get a big shot in the arm.
Governor Ralph Northam says he will designate $46 million additional dollars to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, a state program that works with public private partnerships to increase service.
Current funding for the program is about $4 million a year, according to Northam.
"Universal broadband is an economic necessity. We cannot attract or retain businesses without it," Northam said during Friday's announcement. "A moral necessity. Children’s educational future shouldn’t depend on where they’re born." Northam noted that his own childhood home on the Eastern Shore does not have high speed internet service.
Northam said his administration will soon release a plan to accomplish universal broadband connectivity within ten years.
Northam made the announcement in the town of Bedford, halfway between Roanoke and Lynchburg. He said local efforts to build broadband access are a model for the rest of the state.
On Tuesday, Northam will lay out his plans to legislators who might have different ideas.
"This is really, I think, a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Commonwealth of Virginia with the revenue that we have to invest," Northam said.
Earlier in the week, Northam publicly announced proposals to put more money into rural broadband, teacher raises and school counselors, and Chesapeake Bay restoration programs. Northam also wants to replenish the state’s rainy day fund, which is used when financial times aren’t so rosy.
Northam said the state is enjoying increased revenue from a thriving economy. It can also expect additional money from an internet sales tax and a short-term windfall related to federal tax changes.
In a statement Friday, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee called the spending plan "aggressive." "While my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee and I are eager to work with the governor on areas of agreement," Delegate Chris Jones wrote, "I am wary of the long-term and recurring nature of the commitments he is proposing."