Rural Broadband

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CONGRESS TO FUND EXPANDED ACCESS TO BROADBAND

~ Herring joins bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to ensure critical broadband access for those studying, working, and seeking healthcare from home during COVID-19 ~

RICHMOND (May 22, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any additional legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet access has become critical for basic needs over the past few weeks while millions of Virginians and Americans have been working, learning, socializing and seeking healthcare from home.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Virginians to move school, work, healthcare and just about everything else online and has highlighted how desperately we need a national broadband plan during this crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Many telecom companies have stepped up to provide internet access but that is not a sustainable answer. Congress should include a national broadband plan in any future relief packages to make sure that all communities, especially those in more rural or underserved areas, have access to the internet resources they need.”

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues laud independent efforts of various companies to increase access by waiving late fees or even providing free or discounted access to students and medical providers, while acknowledging that such efforts are not sustainable. Ultimately, the attorneys general argue that there must be a national solution to get internet access to homes across the country, especially in more rural areas.

Unless Congress acts quickly, disparities in access to home internet connectivity will exacerbate existing gaps in educational and health outcomes along lines of geography, economic resources, and race.

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders, the attorneys general urge Congress to:

  • Provide state, territorial, and local governments with adequate funding expressly dedicated to ensuring that all students and patients, especially senior citizens who are at risk, have adequate internet-enabled technology to participate equally in online learning and telemedicine.
  • Increase funding to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission Universal Service Fund, which provides vital funding to rural and low-income populations, healthcare providers, and educators with the goal of bridging the digital divide.

With public health experts warning that a second wave of coronavirus infections may require teleschooling and telemedicine to continue for millions of Americans throughout 2020, it is critical that Congress act now to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity they need to access educational opportunities, healthcare, and to earn a livelihood.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Alaska, American Samoa, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

McEachin and Spanberger Bring FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks to Central Virginia for a Conversation on Rural Broadband

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) today co-hosted a Conversation on Rural Broadband with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, local officials, community leaders, and broadband advocates to discuss federal solutions to barriers expanding broadband access to unserved areas. Held at Prince George Central Wellness Center in central Virginia, the roundtable was moderated by Jeffrey Stoke, Deputy Administrator of Prince George County, and included leaders from the Prince George Electric Cooperative, VCTA The Broadband Association of Virginia and the Office of the Governor of Virginia.

A member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Congressman McEachin last week led 22 of his committee colleagues in issuing a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai outlining their concerns that last-minute language changes to the commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order might inadvertently undermine the ability of states, including Virginia, to effectively provide their residents with accessible, reliable broadband infrastructure. Building on that work, today’s roundtable discussion centered around the critical importance of access to high-speed internet and provided participants with the opportunity to voice their concerns and connect on solutions to mitigate communities’ lack of access.

 “The problems we face in Washington working to ensure every community has access to the high-speed internet needed to grow small businesses, create good-paying jobs, and promote digital equity are complex and cannot be tackled successfully in silos,” added Rep. McEachin. “Today’s conversation with rural broadband experts and stakeholders from Prince George County proves the power and possibility of solution-building between federal, state, and local government, and offers a successful blueprint for future collaboration to provide broadband to unserved and underserved communities throughout the country.”

“Access to opportunity in America shouldn’t be dictated by zip code. In the digital age, fast and secure internet access is a necessity for Central Virginia families, students, and businesses—but in many of our rural Virginia communities, unreliable high-speed broadband internet drastically limits the scope of opportunities for growth and success,” said Spanberger. “Today’s conversation on rural broadband in Congressman McEachin’s district was an opportunity to put our heads together and discuss how we can expand broadband access here in Central Virginia. I’d like to thank the many local and state officials who joined for today’s conversation, and I’d especially like to thank Commissioner Starks for coming to our region to share the FCC’s perspective on current broadband issues—like the need for strengthened investment in local infrastructure and updated broadband connectivity maps. At a time when infrastructure remains a key topic of conversation on Capitol Hill and within the administration, these community conversations emphasize the importance of keeping up the drumbeat on connecting our rural communities and closing the digital divide.”

Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including through the work of the FCC. Last year, Spanberger introduced and passed an amendment to improve FCC broadband internet data. In August 2019, Spanberger hosted her 2019 Rural Broadband Summit in Louisa County to hear about how a lack of reliable broadband internet access is impacting families, farmers, first responders, and small business owners across Central Virginia.

“I was pleased to work with my colleague, Congresswoman Spanberger, to bring together federal, state, municipal and industry leaders for this critical conversation on rural broadband” said Congressman McEachin. “Too frequently, constituents across the country struggle to ensure their voice is heard and their needs are addressed in Washington, and at the same time, Washington acts without engaging with impacted communities. Facilitating connections is where we do our best work,” McEachin continued. “Today’s roundtable discussion is another example of delivering that access for the people of Virginia’s Fourth District.”

Does Southern VA Need More Coworking and Makerspace?

Online Survey Will Determine Direction of Major Innovation Strategy for Region

Attention all small business owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs, remote workers, craftspeople, and creatives. Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), in partnership with Longwood University, is calling for community input on proposed innovative office space in Southern Virginia.

The study is designed to gauge whether or not there is a need for additional coworking and makerspaces, the spaces’ desired offerings, and also the amount people would be willing to pay as a member or occasional user of such a space.

Coworking spaces are generally for those seeking office-type space for continuous or occasional use. Coworking spaces can offer a sense of community among solo workers and amenities such as high speed internet, video conferencing capabilities, printing/scanning/copying, meeting space, etc.

Makerspaces can provide access to design software and shared production equipment, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, drill presses, sewing machines, commercial kitchen equipment, food storage, etc.

“The survey results will guide the planning process for designing high-tech, coworking spaces that provide the tools for success for all types of entrepreneurs in Southern Virginia,” said Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement at MBC.

This region-wide study of market demand for coworking and makerspaces is being conducted by The Institute for Service Research, a full service market research and economic modeling firm with extensive experience in Southern Virginia. The study is part of a larger innovation and entrepreneurship strategy being developed by MBC and Longwood University supported by funding by GO Virginia Region 3.

Those who take the survey have the option to remain anonymous or to be entered to win a $50 Visa gift card.

The survey is available exclusively online at www.investsova.com/survey. MBC and Longwood are urging people who plan to relocate or who currently work or live in the Southern Virginia Tobacco Region to complete the survey. The region includes three cities (Danville, Emporia, Martinsville) and twenty counties (Amelia, Appomattox, Bedford, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Franklin, Greensville, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Sussex).

Air Jordan

GOVA Region 3 Accepting Requests for Qualifications for Broadband Deployment Strategy

GO Virginia Region 3 is accepting Requests for Qualifications from organizations to assess and develop a regional strategy for broadband deployment in the Region 3 footprint, that includes an assessment of incumbent providers and existing on-site broadband coverage. 

The Council is seeking Requests for Qualifications that demonstrate the responders’ ability to develop a regional broadband strategy that provides a framework for the Council which can be used to guide its investment decisions. 

The strategy will include the following.  The deliverable would be completed by May 30, 2020:

 1.    An assessment of existing current broadband deployment plans and strategies at the local and sub-region level;
2.    An assessment of which incumbent providers currently actively provide broadband service in Region 3 (including specific service territories).
3.    An assessment of and recommendations to leverage electric utilities in Region 3 including Dominion Power, AEP, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Southside Electric Cooperative.
4.    Recommendations for optimizing the ongoing efforts to result in ubiquitous broadband coverage within 5 years in Region 3, prioritizing areas that are development sites, existing employers, commercial centers, and public and community venues.

Interested responders should submit a Statement of Qualifications that is no more than 5 pages and that addresses the responder’s ability to develop a strategy document that includes the deliverables noted above. Interested parties should feel free to contact Liz Povar at riverlinkllc@gmail.com or 804-399-8297 with questions.

For more information, go to: https://govirginia3.org/request-for-letters-of-interest-3/

Statements of Qualifications must be received by 5:00PM EST Friday, December 6.

SNEAKERS

GO Virginia Region 3 announces successful project award to develop a Regional Entrepreneur & Innovation Investment Strategy

Project will result in strategic path forward to help entrepreneurs in Region 3

 

The team of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) and the Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development (LOCED) have been awarded a $100,000 grant from GO Virginia to develop the Region 3 Entrepreneur & Innovation Investment Strategy (EII).   By Spring 2020 this team will present a formal recommendation to the Region 3 Council on ways it can support and utilize its resources to invest in projects that improve business formation in the Region.

 

As early as July 2017, the Region 3 Council identified a number of innovation partners in its footprint and utilized these partners as part of its stakeholder group for input into the original Growth & Diversification Plan that was completed in 2017.  In 2018 and in concert with the State GO Virginia Board and its technology consulting firm TEConomy, the Council created a standing Innovation Committee to lead stakeholder sessions on the TEConomy report, which resulted in an assessment of the status of innovation and business formation in the Region 3 footprint.

 

MBC and LOCED bring exceptional strengths to lead this effort. Each organization includes individuals with direct entrepreneurial experience.  From Mid-Atlantic Broadband, this experience includes its deep connectivity with Microsoft and the Microsoft TechSpark Program and its staff engagement with innovation and entrepreneurship organizations outside the Region 3 footprint including Startup VA, Lighthouse Labs and RVA Works.  For the Longwood Office of Economic and Community Development, its experience includes its leadership across the Region in supporting Community Business Launches, its deep and recognized business planning expertise through its Small Business Development Center, and its existing geographic coverage of the entire Region 3 footprint with staffing and programs.  These two entities also bring a level of technical skills that are unique, including business research, mapping capabilities, and demonstrated use of electronic communication platforms to engage broad stakeholder audiences.

 

"It is exciting to see the breadth and depth of regional collaboration from these two experienced partners,” Region 3 GO Virginia Council Chairman Randy Lail said. "We are even more pleased that the State GO Virginia Board concurred with our recommendation to use the knowledge gained from the TEConomy report and advance it into a thoughtful strategy. We know that the lead partners will be engaging as many stakeholders as possible and will create a viable strategy for business formation that will also help us with talent retention and attraction, two areas of focus for our Regional Council."

 

The MBC/LOCED team brings strong skillsets in project management, stakeholder engagement, event planning, research, business analysis, and entrepreneurial program management.  Specifically, LOCED skillsets include a track record of successfully supporting Community Business Launches, analyzing business formation plans and scale-up plans, connecting entrepreneurs to diverse resources, and offering training and mentoring as part of its core competencies.  Four of its team members are active entrepreneurs, bringing practical experience into this project. MBC’s team also includes individual entrepreneurs as well as a founding member of the Danville/Pittsylvania IDEA Fest pitch competition. MBC is also directly connected to a significant corporate partner, Microsoft, through its TechSpark program and through the SOVA Innovation Hub.

"The Regional Council has high hopes that this project team will involve as many of our regional innovation partners as possible in developing this strategy," said Region 3 Vice-Chairman Charley Majors. "Creative thinking, and building impactful partnerships is the way that rural Virginia can successfully create sustainable economies, and this is an example of rural leadership in action." 

"We are excited to be partnering with the Longwood team," said Lauren Mathena, Project Manager for the EII Project.  "And we are eager to use our resources to complement the knowledge that MBC brings to this effort,” said Sheri McGuire, Associate Vice-President for Longwood’s Office of Community & Economic Development.  She continued “We believe that the deep resources of Region 3, and the partners who will help us with this planning effort, will result in a well-designed strategy for this Council to use.”

About GO Virginia: GO Virginia is a statewide business-led economic development initiative with funding to invest in collaborative projects that lead to high-paying jobs in each region. The mission of GO Virginia is to encourage collaboration among business, education, and government in each region. GO Virginia Region 3 is one of nine regions in Virginia and includes the Counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward and the Cities of Danville and Martinsville. For more information, please visit govirginia3.org and sign up for the Region 3 monthly newsletter or connect with GO Virginia Region 3 on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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Virginia Rural Center’s Innovation in Broadband Roundtable Showcases Promising Solutions to the Challenge of Universal High-Speed Internet Access

Senator Emmett Hanger addresses participants at the Innovation in Broadband Roundtable in Prince George County, hosted by the Virginia Rural Center.

PRINCE GEORGE, Va., Nearly 150 state and local officials and business leaders convened in Prince George County on August 16 for an Innovation in Broadband Roundtable, sharing updates on the tangible successes and ongoing challenges faced by rural Virginians lacking increasingly vital high-speed internet access.

“Universal broadband is an economic necessity, it’s an educational necessity, it’s a moral necessity,” said panelist Evan Feinman, Executive Director of the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and Chief Broadband Advisor to Governor Northam.

The event was hosted by the Virginia Rural Center and held at the Prince George Central Wellness Center, one of the first places in the largely rural county to have received broadband thanks to a promising fiber-optic cable deployment program piloted by the Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC).

“When you have the right partner, you can stop talking about broadband, and you can start doing it,” said Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft, noting that the county has won 5 awards from state and national organizations for its broadband partnership with the PGEC.

Building on the success of its pilot broadband program providing 30 Mbps speeds, the PGEC formally announced the launch of R4uralband, a new gigabit high-speed internet service offering that will soon be available to its residential and commercial customers. Dubbed R4, which stands for Rural, Reliable, Revolutionary and Responsible, the service will be delivered over a system-wide fiber optic network that PGEC is building to eventually connect all distribution equipment on its grid.

“We are using the history of the electric coop to chart a new course for fiber broadband in Prince George County, today,” said Jeff Stoke, Deputy County Administrator for Prince George County.

And while local partnerships with cooperatives have proven highly beneficial in certain rural communities where they exist, it will take a more holistic approach to fully solve the rural broadband issue according to Feinman.

“Ultimately the solution to universal broadband access is going to be patchwork – some folks will get fiber or coax service from the incumbent telecommunications company, some will get it from their electric coop, some will get it from their telephone coop, some will get it wirelessly,” Feinman explained.  “We’re going to engage all of those different efforts.”

Feinman explained that Virginia has some catching up to do around broadband initiatives, especially with respect to “last-mile” efforts.

“That said, Virginia is going to be one of the first states in the union, if not the first state in the union, to get broadband functionally to everybody,” said Feinman. “Governor Northam has said that we need to get him a plan to get it to everybody within 10 years. You’re going to see the first iteration of that plan in January.”

But the middle-mile remains critical, according to Tad Deriso, President and CEO of the Mid‐Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), which has 45 wholesale customers ranging from the largest cable companies in the state to the smallest internet service providers (ISPs).

“If you don’t have that wholesale capability to reach the internet, to reduce that cost of access, then all of the last-mile efforts are really not going to work very well,” said Deriso.

Additional discussions during the roundtable explored other technical solutions and organizational resources seeking to drive broadband efforts forward.

Bob Bailey, Executive Director of the Southern Virginia Innovation Center, discussed the advantages and potential for TV white space – the empty spectrum between over-the-air TV channels – as a broadband solution.  Besides requiring very little infrastructure, Bailey explained how this solution does not require line-of-sight to antennas and that there is plenty of unlicensed spectrum available, especially in rural areas.

Chuck Kirby, Executive Director of the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), also gave an update on the state’s Broadband Advisory Council role in advising the Governor on policy and funding priorities to speed the cost-effective deployment of broadband access in the Commonwealth.

Kirby also highlighted an upcoming Virginia Broadband Summit that the CIT is hosting in partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA Program. The summit will take place in Roanoke on October 30, 2018.

Broadband will also be a featured topic of discussion at the Virginia Rural Center’s annual Virginia Rural Summit, taking place October 21-22, 2018 at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton.

While challenges remain and there is much work to be done, momentum and resources are building behind the universal broadband access movement.

“This is a 10-year effort, but it’s not a moonshot. We already know how to do this, and we already have the resources to do this. This is a question of whether or not we have the political will to do it,” said Feinman. “I believe based on the folks in the room, we do, so let’s make it happen.”

“This is what revitalization is going to look like in rural Virginia,” added Delegate Emily Brewer, who represents the state’s 64th district.

The roundtable concluded with a presentation by John Tyler Community College President Edward "Ted" Raspiller, who stressed the critical role that broadband plays for colleges who are now challenged to provide a distance learning experience that matches the in-class experience.

Raspiller offered a live demonstration of the power of broadband when he established a videoconference connection with a former distance learning student who described the tremendous impact broadband had on her life.

Struggling to juggle jobs that weren’t the right fit with the responsibilities of raising a young child, the student wanted to go back to school but knew that attending class in person was not the answer.

But online classes, enabled by broadband, offered a solution.

“Distance learning was my answer,” she explained. “And it was because of that little internet connection, that I am what I am today – having earned my master’s degree, doing purposeful work, and living a lifestyle that is much more comfortable for my family.”

“Ask yourself, what can a single internet connection do for you, for a family, for a community?” the student challenged the audience in conclusion.

For more information, visit www.cfrv.org.

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