CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Broadband brought Senator Mark Warner to central Virginia for the second straight day. The senator was part of a roundtable about boosting rural internet access hosted by Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) Thursday, April 8.
After a year that has shown just how vital internet connectivity is, Sen. Warner sat down to discuss what’s being done on a local level already and what funding might be on the way from President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan. The roundtable brought Virginia’s senior senator face to face with local government, financial representatives, and the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, all working to bring high-speed broadband internet to rural areas. It’s something that Warner says is essential in this day and age
“As Mr. Adams from Louisa County said, this is the equivalent of electricity in the 1930s,” Warner said. “I’m not saying that high-speed internet connections are going to guarantee economic success, but I can guarantee if you don’t have that high-speed internet connections your community is not going to get a fair shot.”
It’s something PVCC President Frank Friedman has seen first hand after a year of virtual learning. He says internet will not only be key for students learning online, but even students in the classroom.
“I think the pandemic has made us realize, without access to broadband it’s almost impossible to be a successful college student going forward,” Friedman explained.
The roundtable highlighted how some localities are taking matters into their own hands: Louisa County, who invested $15 million into broadband for everyone in the county last month.
“The fact that Louisa, a rural community, pretty conservative is making that kind of commitment to get 100% of their community served? That is great leadership from that county and others ought to follow suit,” Warner said.
Louisa County taking that step is key in part because it proves that their system can work, according to Firefly Fiber Broadband President Gary Wood.
“Having Louisa take that bold step gives us an opportunity to show other counties that there is a model,” Wood said. “We’re working really hard now to continue that and spread it across Virginia.”
More funding help is on the way. In the last few months, $7 billion has been allocated in federal funds. Warner says he is pushing Governor Ralph Northam to invest some of the commonwealth’s surplus revenue into broadband as well. Pres. Biden wants to add another $100 billion earmarked for broadband specifically in his infrastructure plan.
“High-speed internet connections are definitely a part of infrastructure,” Warner said. “We as a nation are wealthy enough that we need to make sure that every home in the next three years, across Virginia and across the nation, has that high speed connection.”