**Central Virginians Share How Insufficient Broadband Access Has Impacted Them: Click Here And Here For Video, Click Here For Photos**
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today announced the initial results of her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, a fact-gathering survey that asked Central Virginians to describe how a lack of reliable broadband access has personally impacted them, their families, and their businesses.
Spanberger’s office has so far received 139 individual responses, detailing the impacts of the digital divide on rural educational and economic opportunities. In addition to stories she heard during town halls and community events across the district, these survey results helped guide Spanberger’s successful push to strengthen federal rural broadband funding by $55 million.
“Rural broadband is a key component of the greater, nationwide effort to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century. The economic and educational disparities created by a lack of reliable, high-speed internet are found across the United States, and they are particularly hard-felt in rural and underserved areas,” said Spanberger. “I launched the 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, because I wanted to hear directly from Central Virginians about how this issue is negatively impacting their lives. The stories we received came from all ten counties in Virginia’s Seventh District. Teachers, healthcare providers, farmers, small business owners, students, and parents all faced significant challenges because of a lack of reliable broadband. I’ll continue leading the bipartisan fight to expand broadband access in Central Virginia — because no one’s scope of opportunity should be dictated by their zip code.”
Survey participant Amy Umberger, Orange County: “Connection matters because my job relies on staying connected with my students in as many ways as possible!”
Survey participant Lindsey Pagano, Spotsylvania County: “Connection matters because it gives me the ability to work from home, which in turn provides me with more time with my family.”
Spanberger’s office received 139 stories as part of the 2019 Rural Broadband Survey. Here are a few examples:
- Amy Snyder, Louisa
“My son (now 8th grade) has denied having homework knowing that we don’t have internet access AND the library was closed, Sundays in particular. He didn’t want to inconvenience me, a single parent of 3 children, knowing that we will have to go out of town most likely to the Charlottesville library to complete his assignments.”
- Robyn Whittington, Amelia
“I work on my family’s grain and beef cattle farm in Amelia County. Most of my time is spent in the office – record keeping, processing payroll, day-to-day financials, etc. In our area, there is only one internet provider (TDS). The company is based out of Wisconsin and our area is a hold-over from a buyout of a small, local company many years ago. The company is very open with the fact that they don’t intend to improve infrastructure (translation – bury fiber optic cable) here because the market is so small. The internet service is great when it works but isn’t always reliable. When the internet is down, I can’t do simple things like process payments, send liability payments, check the radar for our guys out in the fields, or even print (wireless printer).”
- Thomas Watkins, Nottoway
“As a small business owner in the brick and mortar retail sector, the lack of inexpensive internet dramatically decreases our ability to compete with large internet retailers. The high cost of high-speed internet creates a barrier to entry for our business as we try to create our own retail internet business. We simply would like to be on the same playing field as the large internet retailers.”
- Chrystal Doyle, Henrico
“Many rural patients share that they can’t easily get online and “don’t have access” to information online unless they drive a long distance to their county library. Additionally, telehealth and telemedicine is increasingly being improved and adapted to help provide timely, convenient, cost-effective care, especially in rural areas where health resources are scarce. Lack of access to the internet impedes this cost-effective delivery of care and limits patient access to health services. People across the Commonwealth should have equitable access to information and health resources and broadband can help create parity.”
- Jasmine Smith, Spotsylvania
“I have taken online classes since I was a freshman in college and the lack of access to broadband internet bars me from accessing my assignments or anything of the sort. I now have high speed internet, but I struggled for most of my college career in getting access to the internet on most occasions. If I didn’t have access, I’d have to drive to my college, which is 40 miles away, to get reliable internet.”
- William McGuire, Goochland
“I am a teacher and much of the work that I do is online. From creating “flipped” lesson plans, making student assignments, grading and entering grades, and communicating with parents and students, all require good internet speeds. Many times, I have to stay at school into the night, away from my family, to get my work complete. My wife is a teacher as well and faces similar struggles.”
- Roy Jacobson, Orange
“When we moved into our house in Gordonsville 16 years ago, various internet providers assured us that we would have high speed connection very soon. Since then we have followed up on several high-speed connection offers only to be told upon subsequent investigation that we will not have access ‘any time soon.’ We have a farm business, and this significantly affects our outreach and sales.”
- Reginia Sibley, Louisa
“I have been trying to take this survey for hours! Enough said!!! The lack of consistent, reliable internet service hinders everything we do; from receiving reliable emergency notifications and important news or weather warnings that could impact our lives in life or death situations; for research and education for staying “in the know” and bettering our knowledge of what is directly impacting our lives every single day; to the basics of receiving and paying our bills in a timely manner.”
- Amy Umberger, Orange
“I am a Title I teacher and the documentation of student progress, test data, lesson plans, etc. is done through Google Drive. I have to have internet access to work on quarterly reports, data sheets, progress reports, etc. I pay for broadband through Verizon (I have a Jet Pack) but at least 50% of the time, my connection is so weak in the evenings that I either stay very late at school or work late at the public library after I finish my twice-a-week tutoring session. A couple of summers ago, I took an online class and was so desperate to get a project to upload one night that I took my laptop and drove to the McDonald’s at the corner of rt 3 and rt 20 in the middle of a thunderstorm. I felt ridiculous sitting in the parking lot with my laptop in the middle of a down pour but I was able to park close enough to the building to access their WiFi.”
In June, Spanberger successfully led the fight to approve a bipartisan amendment that would increase federal rural broadband infrastructure funding by $55 million. The amendment was passed by the House as part of an appropriations package last week. The increased funding will strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant program, which partners with rural communities and businesses to expand high-speed internet infrastructure and increase e-connectivity in rural and underserved areas. Click here to watch Spanberger’s full remarks in favor of the amendment, including stories shared by Central Virginians through the 2019 Rural Broadband Survey.
In the first round of ReConnect Program grant applications this year, USDA saw a 3-to-1 ratio in applications submitted compared to federal funding available. To help address this clear demand for increased funding, Spanberger led this effort to increase ReConnect funding, worked with the House Appropriations Committee to identify cost offsets that would not negatively impact USDA, and gathered a bipartisan group of 12 additional Democrats and Republicans to announce their support for the amendment.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, one in four rural Virginians lacks access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. This digital divide can lead to consequences that impact educational and economic opportunities in rural America. For instance, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data, an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have reliable access to computers at home—and 18 percent of all students do not have access to broadband internet.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including by:
- Fighting for strengthened funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure in the communities that need it. Earlier this year, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging key House Appropriations Committee members to boost funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure—including through the ReConnect Program. And Spanberger also introduced and passed an amendment to improve FCC broadband internet data—and she articulated the need for improved FCC maps on the floor of the U.S. House, particularly as it impacts the eligibility of Central Virginia communities for federal funding.
- Bringing the eConnectivity concerns of Central Virginians directly to USDA leadership. During her first House Agriculture Committee hearing, Spanberger asked USDA Secretary Perdue about his thoughts on expanding rural broadband. Spanberger also invited Secretary Perdue to visit her district to hear directly from Central Virginia farmers and dairy producers, and get their feedback on current USDA policies and 2018 Farm Bill implementation. He accepted her invitation. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Last month, Spanberger announced her appointment to a new task force focused on expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. The House Task Force on Rural Broadband will provide coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States, and it will operate under an overarching goal to make sure all Americans have reliable access to high-speed internet by 2025. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored an op-ed in Fox News to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.