CULPEPER TIMES, SARAH LANGLAND
The summit was held at the Culpeper County Library, a place where many local families and students gather if they do not have access to reliable high-speed internet.
Approximately 33% of households – or 4,300 homes – in Culpeper County do not have access to high-speed internet despite Virginia being ranked 15th in the country for broadband access, Spanberger said.
Spanberger was joined by senior administration officials such as White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Special Representative for Broadband Andy Berke, and the Senior Advisor for Broadband and Technology Policy at the National Economic Council Lisa Hone, who oversee high-speed internet funding and the implementation of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law.
Culpeper County Administrator John Egerston shared that Culpeper County had received a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative Act Grant from the state. The funds will be used to provide fiber to unserved areas in Culpeper County.
However, the problem lies in what is considered “served” and “unserved,” which relies upon census tracks and blocks.
“If one house in the track is served, then it’s considered served and that’s where the problem is,” Egerston said.
Community member Michelle North lives in a census block that reports being served by Comcast. However, she must use multiple mobile hotspots to provide internet to her family because she said Comcast does not supply service to her home.
Fiber internet access isn’t all that far away though as she can see the fiber cable being installed parallel to her farm on Route 229.
When contracts to receive the high-speed access arise, she continued, her home cannot join because the property is considered served on the census maps.
“That makes me really angry,” North said.
Part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act directs $65 billion in investments to the states to make sure that every home that wants access to reliable high-speed internet can get connected. A key part of the bipartisan infrastructure law is that it recognizes internet connectivity as infrastructure.
This includes updating the maps that the Federal Communications Commission uses to be location specific.
Spanberger explained the priority issue is getting better maps by “going parcel by parcel, home by home, farm to farm.”
Beginning in June, every internet service provider (ISP) is to submit to the FCC every location they serve in order to update maps.
The FCC defines a location being served as internet service being provided by an ISP within 10 days of the request. The first revised maps are expected to be ready by the end of September.
“(It’s) important for folks to call Comcast if it says they claim to serve you,” Hone said of what residents should do following the updated maps initiative. “And if they don’t, let the FCC know.”
“What we are going to see, and you guys prove this, is not there are huge chunks of the country with service and huge chunks without. We are going to see Swiss cheese!”