CBS6: More Virginians need internet access than previously reported

CBS6, BRENDAN KING

The Youngkin administration said they discovered more Virginians do not have access to affordable, high-speed broadband internet than previously reported.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam announced intentions to bring broadband internet to every Virginian by 2024. In 2021, his administration said there was about 223,000 homes and businesses still in need of a link-up.

Gov. Glen Youngkin told CBS 6 that his team found additional homes and businesses were without broadband access after analyzing data from Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and their Virginia Broadband Availability Map.

The Republican has largely focused on a family’s access to higher speeds of broadband in addition to access altogether. Youngkin highlighted the difference between standard 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25/3) speeds versus 100 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (100/20).

Speeds of 25 Mbps allow up to two devices to stream, surf the web and check emails. While 50 to 100 Mbps allow a few more people to stream in HD or even 4K, stream music, game, browse social media and work from home.

Youngkin believed every Virginian should have access to speeds of at least 100/20. He said the higher speeds allow more members of a family to access Telehealth and stream classes for virtual education.

The governor also called broadband an economic and social priority.

“We also recognize that there’s just more addresses to get by. These addresses can be homes, they can be apartment complexes, and they can be buildings. So, we’ve gone through a bottom up on the Broadband Map and now got the granular data. There are more addresses to get by and there’s higher speed to offer,” Youngkin explained.

Data showed 234,708 locations in Virginia reported below 25/3 speeds, while more than 206,700 locations did not have reported data for a total of 441,435 locations that are unserved. However, there are more than 350,000 locations currently included in active projects to expand broadband.

An estimated 210,039 locations are classified as unserved and below 100/20 speed, according to the service territory data submitted by internet service providers.

Youngkin said he was optimistic they could still complete the job by 2024 despite the additional unserved locations.

Both Democrats and Republicans see the importance of bringing high-speed internet to Virginians.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico) said the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure bills largely supported and passed by Democrats included the first time that broadband was classified and discussed as a utility much like electricity and water.

Lawmakers have voted to allocate a total of $800 million to bring broadband throughout the Commonwealth.

“It’s the strength of the American Rescue Plan dollars that went to localities, and that our localities are using in a meaningful way to be able to apply for more grants. What will get us ultimately over the finish line will be additional investments from the Infrastructure bill that I was so proud to support,” Spanberger explained.

Spanberger also detailed a possible reason for the discrepancy in figures shared by the previous administration. The Democrat said broadband maps displayed information like “paint by numbers” based on census data.

If just one household or business in a certain census tract had broadband access, then the entire tract would be noted as having access – when it could not be accurate.

“One of the things that I’m really proud of is within the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — it included my bill, The Speedy Updates Act, which is to ensure that new high speed internet networks are built with up-to-date upload and download capabilities. I’m happy to hear Governor Youngkin echoing that same sentiment,” Spanberger stated.

Youngkin planned to work with Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Virginia) office to find additional funds to complete the job, but he did not share an estimated cost.

The Commonwealth recently ranked high in a report that studies and scored states based on broadband costs, broadband coverage and average download speeds.

Policyadvisor.com ranked Virginia as 8th in the nation for best internet access with 89.3% with coverage. Rhode Island ranked first.

The states with the worst internet access were Montana and West Virginia.

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