WEYERS CAVE — In two years, every home without internet in Rockingham and surrounding counties is slated to be connected through a regional broadband project.
The state is awarding $722 million in grant funding to connect 278,000 homes without internet service across the commonwealth, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday at the campus of Blue Ridge Community College.
“These funds will bring coverage to 70 Virginia counties from Lee, the farthest county to our west, to Accomack, which is where I’m from, and Frederick and Halifax,” he said.
In the Shenandoah Valley, over $95 million was awarded to connect 37,357 homes through a regional project that does not include Shenandoah County. Homes without broadband in the counties of Rockingham, Page, Augusta, Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Rappahannock and Warren will be connected through a partnership that includes the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, All Points Broadband, the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion, according to Northam.
The grant by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission and All Points Broadband, an internet service provider, calls for all the homes to be connected within two years.
Thirty-four other projects were approved for similar broadband funding, which was sourced from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative and the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
There were 57 applications in total that covered 84 localities and 25 ISPs, according to a press release from Northam’s office.
The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors voted to join a broadband grant application by Edinburg-based internet service provider Shentel on Aug. 24, according to reports in the Northern Virginia Daily.
The state will provide $12 million to Shenandoah County and Shentel to provide internet to the last 4,139 homes in the county without broadband, Northam’s office announced by press release Monday. A further $20.7 million has been leveraged for the county and Shentel’s effort.
Over $190 million for the project that will cover Rockingham County and the other localities will come from local and federal matching funds, Northam said Monday.
“Today, I will call the end of the beginning,” said Jimmy Carr, CEO of All Points Broadband. “We have a long way to go and few years of work in front of us.”
Over the summer, All Points Broadband sent staff to drive every street in counties including Rockingham to find underserved areas in need of broadband, Carr said.
The company identified roughly 7,600 areas in Rockingham County, and 680 miles of fiber infrastructure could be placed on existing poles to bring service to those areas, Carr told the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 28.
Rockingham County is contributing up to $8.9 million for the project, which will cost nearly $55 million to provide broadband to all unconnected homes in the county, according to Stephen King, county administrator.
The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative will create the “backbone” for the fiber lines, which will be handled by All Points Broadband, said Greg Rogers, president and chief executive officer.
Rogers said the partnership will not only help residents get broadband, but will benefit cooperative customers through equipment and system reliability upgrades.
At BRCC’s campus, Northam talked about his own rural upbringing on the Eastern Shore and how he has seen firsthand why people are pressured to leave rural areas for a variety of issues, such as a lack of broadband.
He said broadband access is essential for localities, especially rural ones, to attract and maintain businesses, improve health care accessibility for residents through remote care, and for students and adults to have educational materials at their fingertips through the internet.
When he was elected governor, the state was spending roughly $4 million on broadband expansion a year, with roughly 660,000 residents without access to fast internet, according to the press release.
The next year, the Northam administration put $35 million in funding for broadband expansion, Northam said Monday. Over the past four years, 429,000 homes have been connected with $846 million in state funding, according to the release.
Over 93% of the homes without internet in 2018 will have internet when the projects announced Monday are complete and 278,000 homes are connected.
“The idea that we’re able to finish this administration with 90% of the digital divide closed, in terms of funded projects, is really amazing,” said Evan Feinman, Northam’s chief broadband adviser.
The state is on track to become among the first in the nation with universal broadband by 2024, according to the release.