RVATECH Supports Restoring $32 million in Un-allotted Funding During the Special Session

Access to broadband internet is an issue that is still important in 2020. According to a presentation at the Broadband Advisory Council, approximately 500,000 Virginians are without broadband across, and approximately 350,000 home and business locations. In 2020, the internet is as much a necessity as electricity and rural communities without it are being left behind. The absence of broadband in a community means the absence of jobs. With access to broadband communities can retain and attract jobs, students have better education outcomes, thousands could have better access to healthcare with telemedicine, and opportunity can be equally distributed regardless of where someone lives. The economic returns on one-time broadband infrastructure investments are immediate and significant. According to a 2019 U.S. Chamber of Commerce/Amazon study, universal broadband would increase Virginia’s annual sales by $2.24 billion and add over 9,000 jobs. According to a 2019 USDA study, universal broadband would increase total agriculture production by 18%, or $16.3 billion in Virginia agriculture and forestry output.

Virginia is dedicated to solving this problem. The Commonwealth Connect Coalition is an organization that is made up of over 120 Virginia based members, including RVATech, that believes every Virginian deserves access to quality broadband. The coalition has worked to support funding in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative program to expand access to broadband. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released their study into How States are Expanding Broadband Access and Virginia was one of the states they examined. Pew explained what they found in an op-ed with Richmond Times Dispatch.

The Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) program, administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), provides financial assistance to public/private partnerships to supplement construction costs when extending broadband to unserved communities. VATI enjoys widespread success from localities and broadband providers alike. Since the program’s creation in 2017, VATI has annually been oversubscribed by at least double the amount in request than the amount of funding available. In 2019, VATI received $43.6 million in requests for $19 million available. Through three years, VATI has awarded $6.7 million to 18 localities, connecting 17,000 homes, businesses, and community anchors.

During the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session, Governor Northam proposed $70 million for the biennium for VATI. The legislature fully funded the Governor’s proposal. By fully funding the program at $70 million, VATI will be able to connect over 100,000 Virginians to high speed internet. RVATech fully supported the Governor's funding for broadband and advocated to legislators to keep the funding. RVATech has also supported dozens of other pieces of legislation that help expand access to broadband in the Richmond region and across the Commonwealth. Broadband deployment has been and continues to be an important part of RVATech's legislative agenda.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Northam and the General Assembly un-allotted most new discretionary spending. VATI was previously funded at $38 million, which remains part of the budget. The remaining $32 million was un-allotted and will be addressed in the upcoming special session of the Virginia General Assembly. Stay tuned for next month's update on the special session. RVATech strongly supports restoring this funding.

The next round of VATI applications are due August 17, 2020. Applications must be submitted by a unit of government with a private-sector provider(s) as a co-applicant. (Units of government include towns, cities, counties, economic and industrial development authorities, broadband or wireless authorities, planning district commissions, etc.). For more information on how to apply and a list of resources visit here.