Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the grant on Monday afternoon at the SCTC service center in Gate City. Speaking to a packed crowd, Northam said one of his top priorities as governor has been expanding broadband access in rural areas, such as Southwest Virginia.
“If we’re going to help all of Virginia, in 2019, you’ve got to have access to broadband,” Northam said. “There’s just no question about it.”
About the grant
Bill Franklin, CEO of SCTC, said the grant was first announced about a month ago and was awarded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
All $1.5 million will be used to create broadband access in a mile-long stretch of Weber City where there is currently no access to high-speed service, Franklin said. Engineering work has already begun on the project, and work is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete.
“That will help connect 578 — in that ballpark — individuals and businesses that didn’t have broadband before,” Northam said. “So $1.5 million is a significant amount of money, and 578 households, that means a lot.”
Addressing the need
Northam said he believes expanding broadband access will improve business, education and health care across the commonwealth, but much work still needs to be done to make those improvements happen.
“There are over 600,000 Virginians as we stand here and sit here today that don’t have access to the internet,” Northam said. “We have actually been able to connect a little bit over 70,000 in the last year and a half, but that still leaves a little bit over 500,000 individuals in Virginia that don’t have access.”
Northam said he’s worked to devote more resources to broadband expansion. Last year, only $4 million was allocated to broadband initiatives for the entire commonwealth, but this year that figure has grown to $19 million, he said.
SCTC also recently received a $3 million grant from USDA to improve broadband access in the Nickelsville area. That work will involve replacing the old copper network with fiber, Franklin said.
“We’ve probably got 60 percent of our customers that have got fiber at the home now,” Franklin said, “and we’re wanting to do the other 40 percent.”