Commonwealth Connect is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s comprehensive effort to achieve universal broadband access, a goal set by Governor Ralph Northam in July 2018. The full plan can be found here, but Commonwealth Connect is working towards universal broadband through 4 main tracks:
Increased state grants to public/private partnerships to “make the math work” and build broadband to unserved communities
The “math” problem behind the digital divide is when there aren’t enough potential customers in unconnected communities to justify private sector broadband providers building broadband infrastructure to connect them. This funding gap is where state grants can make the math work and bridge the divide. Since 2017, the Commonwealth has awarded $25.7 million in broadband grants, connecting over 70,000 Virginia residents and businesses.
To ensure localities are involved in such buildouts and incorporating each project into a larger plan for universal coverage, state broadband grants require applicants to be a partnership between a unit of local government (county, city, EDA, etc.) and a private sector broadband provider.
Policy changes to accelerate universal broadband
Along with increased state funding, the Commonwealth has passed innovative legislation that will bring down the costs for building broadband, increase competition, and help localities raise matching funds. HB 2691, passed in the 2019 General Assembly Session, allows Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy to provide "middle mile" fiber to unserved areas of the state via a 3-year pilot program. This program will bring down the cost of entry for broadband providers and may even lower electric rates, since any revenues that the utilities generate from leasing fiber to providers will go back to ratepayers.
HB 2141, also passed in the 2019 General Assembly Session, allows localities to establish special service districts for the purposes of broadband expansion. Like when a neighborhood pays for their own snow removal, now a neighborhood or sub-locality can become a service district and raise their own taxes for the purposes of broadband expansion.
Better support and resources for local broadband planning
To help local leaders develop and execute a local plan for universal broadband, the Commonwealth Connect team has developed a comprehensive toolkit for local leaders. This toolkit includes a step-by-step guide, model broadband solicitations, FAQs, and much more.
Convening over 100 broadband stakeholders in the Commonwealth Connect Coalition
Supporting the goal of universal broadband in Virginia is the Commonwealth Connect Coalition, a diverse coalition of more than 100 different trade associations, fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and broadband providers.