Governor announces universal broadband deal – The Suffolk News-Herald

Western Tidewater to receive over $ 21 million

Suffolk, County of the Isle of Wight and County of Southampton will receive just over $ 21.1 million for universal broadband efforts under the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant program.

This is part of a $ 2 billion grant deal, Governor Ralph Northam announced on December 13 in Goochland County that he would bring high-speed internet to 90% of the state’s residents and put the Virginia “on track” to be one of the first states to provide universal broadband access.

Private and local investment is over $ 1 billion, to which is added more than $ 846 million the state has already invested and an additional $ 722 million under the most recent announcement.

The grant money for Western Tidewater is part of a joint VAT application by the Hampton Roads District Planning Commission, Charter Communications and the Tri-Towns. Combined with funding from each of the towns and Charter, they will have an additional $ 14.5 million for universal broadband access – $ 6.7 million from the three towns and $ 7.8 million from Charter.

The regional project, supported by Primis Bank through the Commonwealth Connect Fund, will build fiber-optic broadband in 12,223 unserved locations and provide coverage in Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Southampton. The VATI grant builds on Charter’s existing service with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The VAT claim had requested nearly $ 22.8 million.

As part of the agreement, the commission will be the project’s fiscal agent and act as a liaison between the localities, the Charter and the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which manages the VATI program. Charter, on the other hand, must provide the commission with all the information necessary to manage the grant, including progress reports and monthly invoices, and it must provide all the documents required for zoning and permit applications. to localities.

Charter will design, develop and create the broadband services as described in the VAT application, and will ensure that the minimum bandwidth offers will not be less than what the Federal Communications Commission defines as broadband on the start date of the service. project. The company will also own all that has been paid for with the VAT subsidy.

The service will offer four symmetrical internet speed levels – 30/4 Mbps (download / upload speeds in megabits per second), 200/10 Mbps, 400/20 Mbps and 1000/500 Mbps, with no data cap, with prices monthly service charges of $ 17.99 (for qualifying homes), $ 74.99, $ 94.99 and $ 134.99, respectively.

The monthly fee of $ 17.99 that is part of Charter’s Spectrum Internet Assist program is available to households in which one or more members are part of the National School Meals Program, including through the eligibility provision of community or additional security income for people aged 65 and over. old. Homes in this plan receive a free Internet modem, have no data cap, and do not need a contract.

The VATI app says it expects about 79% of the homes and businesses it spends to purchase broadband service, and expects an even higher percentage based on marketing and service efforts. sensitization.

Charter and each of the localities plan to organize at least three municipal events “in the communities most affected”.

Northam announced the new fund in November as Primis Bank, Facebook, Dominion Energy and the Cameron Foundation pledged more than $ 1.5 million for the effort.

Localities, Charter and HRPDC continued grant money as a regional initiative, forming a steering committee in spring 2021 to provide broadband to unserved areas.

The commission joined the steering committee, according to the VATI application, so that it can “integrate local efforts into the regional plan for universal broadband, facilitate partnerships to increase availability and exploit the opportunities presented by cables submarines arriving in Virginia Beach and the Middle East. Mile regional fiber ring under development by the Southside Network Authority.

They cited not only the lack of broadband service, but its benefits for economic development by improving access to health care, education and workforce development opportunities, which will help also small businesses and home businesses, and their proximity to the Port of Virginia logistics industry, defense industries and other industries looking for vacant land and commercial space, but also looking for broadband access. The application also noted that more than 500 farmers in these Western Tidewater communities will be able to exploit the full potential of the new equipment and will be able to improve efficiency and allow remote access to service providers.

Northam noted that the federal, state, local and private investments the state has made over the past four years as the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted an emerging and urgent need to make high-speed internet available to everyone. regions of the state.

“Broadband access impacts every facet of our daily life, from education to business to healthcare,” said Northam. “It’s a necessity to navigate today’s digital world, and this new funding will bridge Virginia’s digital divide with universal broadband by 2024.”

Over the past four years, the state has invested more than $ 846 million to connect more than 429,000 homes, businesses and other entities to broadband, according to the announcement.

Virginia has taken dramatic steps in broadband since Northam took office in 2018. Prior to that, Virginia’s broadband program was only investing $ 4 million per year and 660,000 Virginians did not have access. broadband internet.

“Virginia and the VATI program continue to be the national model for bridging the digital divide, and today’s announcement cements our success,” said Secretary of Commerce and Commerce Brian Ball. “This round of grants will connect more than 278,550 households / businesses to high-speed internet, ensuring that more communities across the Commonwealth have access to the necessities of modern living.”

The VATI program provides funds to expand broadband service to underserved areas, with projects selected through a competitive process. Projects are evaluated based on a demonstrated need and benefit to a community, the applicant’s readiness and ability to continue with the project, and the cost and amount already guaranteed for it. The amount of money for the project is based on the infrastructure needs in the area.

VATI received 57 applications from 84 partner localities of 25 Internet service providers.

Charter, according to the VATI app, is interested in partnering with the Southside Network Authority to take advantage of its fiber optic network that will reach Suffolk, and on behalf of the three localities, Suffolk is working on setting up a partnering with Dominion Energy to assist with licensing or meeting any other utility company requirements.

Shentel will also join Suffolk’s broadband portfolio, with city council approving a three-year right-of-way license agreement to allow the Edinburgh-based company, more officially known as Shenandoah Cable Television LLC, to operate and install its Glo Fiber network. in the city.

In July, Suffolk announced plans to spend $ 8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to improve broadband infrastructure in the city – $ 5 million to build Phase I of the Ring of Connectivity regional and $ 3 million as part of its contribution to the VATI application.

In addition, Suffolk and Charter have embarked on a $ 2.2 million project – 75% of that coming from the city – to expand the broadband network to an additional 357 homes in the city, which is expected to be completed this month. -this.

The Southside Network Authority said Cox Communications submitted the lowest bid, nearly $ 18 million, for the construction of the regional fiber optic ring and up to three years of interim maintenance. Danella Construction had the second lowest bid at nearly $ 24.6 million. Both offers have been extended until at least January 15.

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