U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger and the Office of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam yesterday led a roundtable discussion with local officials, industry partners, area electric cooperatives, and the Broadband Association of Virginia to discuss the continued need for expanded access to high-speed broadband internet in Central Virginia.
Earlier this week, Spanberger cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would reduce the barriers that prevent Central Virginia Rural Utilities Service borrowers from refinancing their debt to take advantage of lower market rates.
During the roundtable discussion, Spanberger and Evan Feinman — Chief Broadband Advisor for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam — provided updates and discussed ongoing challenges to securing additional broadband infrastructure across Virginia’s Seventh District. They were joined by leaders from Amelia County, Orange County, Nottoway County, Henrico County, Microsoft, VCTA-Broadband Association of Virginia, the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative.
“Instead of being the greater leveler, the COVID-19 crisis has consistently compounded structural inequities in communities across Virginia. The lack of reliable access to high-speed internet in rural communities is one of them,” said Spanberger. “During our discussion, we had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges Central Virginians are facing right now when it comes to internet connectivity — and we heard from the organizations in our community that are working to expand this critical infrastructure. I’d like to thank Mr. Feinman for joining this important conversation, and I look forward to continuing the fight in Congress to bring new opportunities to businesses, students, and families through strengthened access to broadband internet.”
“Just as Governor Northam has made broadband a priority, getting over 108,000 Virginia homes and businesses connected, Congresswoman Spanberger has been a champion for disconnected Virginians, leading effort after effort in the Congress to get more Virginians online,” said Evan Feinman, Chief Broadband Advisor, Office of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “I was thrilled to join her for a forum and help inform the citizens of the 7th district.”
A lack of reliable internet access has wide-ranging effects on businesses, healthcare systems, schools, and the rural economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges in Central Virginia and has forced healthcare providers to offer care via telehealth services — and school systems have built virtual learning systems as Seventh District students go back to school this fall.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Spanberger has worked to bring immediate solutions to students, parents, Main Street businesses, and schools struggling to access high-speed internet during the crisis. In April 2020, Spanberger led 46 of her colleagues in calling for robust funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) E-Rate program in upcoming coronavirus emergency packages. Later that month, Spanberger also led a bipartisan group of 73 of her U.S. House colleagues in urging Congress to prioritize a historic investment in high-speed internet projects in any upcoming congressional infrastructure package.
In July 2020, the U.S. House voted to pass infrastructure-focused legislation that includes Spanberger’s priorities to expand high-speed internet access across the country, as well as her amendment to ensure that new broadband networks are built to provide customers with sufficient upload and download speeds.
Yesterday’s roundtable builds on Spanberger’s efforts to close the digital divide in the Seventh District’s rural communities. In February 2020, Spanberger announced $28 million in federal funding for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure projects in Central Virginia —including in Louisa, Orange, Goochland, and Powhatan Counties — through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect program. Last year, Spanberger successfully led the fight to protect ReConnect funding from elimination.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural areas, including by:
- Bringing awareness to the issue of rural broadband access. In August 2019, Spanberger hosted her 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.
- Amplifying and collecting the stories of Central Virginians. Spanberger has collected and amplified the stories of Central Virginians who are currently facing unnecessary challenges due to the absence of broadband internet in their community. Last year, she collected these stories through her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, in which she asked Central Virginians to describe how a lack of reliable broadband access has personally impacted them, their families, or their businesses.
- 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. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Last year, Spanberger announced her appointment to the Rural Broadband Task Force, which provides coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored a Fox News op-ed last year to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.