Virginians have a chance to make sure they’re on the map for federal funding to deliver high-speed internet to their homes and businesses.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is urging people who live in areas of Virginia that aren’t currently connected to broadband telecommunications networks to check a new federal map to determine whether it accurately shows the availability of high-speed internet service.
The Federal Communications Commission, known as the FCC, released new maps in November to show the reported availability of broadband service, but Warner wants to ensure the agency got it right with its map for Virginia, with a deadline looming to challenge mistakes.
“There are folks all over rural Virginia who know that the FCC broadband map isn’t always accurate,” he said. “Now is the time to make sure that it is using the best data available, so Virginia can get the investments to which it is entitled and achieve the goal of universal broadband service.”
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Warner is well-aware of the high stakes because he helped write the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed in 2021, a $1 trillion package that includes more than $65 billion in federal funds to make high-speed internet both available and affordable in every state and U.S. territory.
Virginia received a $5 million grant under the law last month, but much more is coming, depending on the state’s need.
“Here’s the deal: We’ve been relying on outdated maps of broadband coverage for far too long,” he said in an email before Thanksgiving to Virginia constituents, “and so I’ve been pushing for a new set of maps that will help us make the most effective and efficient investments to get broadband across the commonwealth.”
Most of the federal money will flow through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The biggest pot — almost $42.5 billion — will be distributed among 50 states and six territories by the agency’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program.
Evan Feinman, the program’s director, is highly familiar with Virginia’s efforts to expand broadband networks to unserved or underserved areas, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic made high-speed internet service essential for work and school.
Feinman was broadband adviser to then-Gov. Ralph Northam, as well as executive director of the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, which invests tobacco settlement money in economic development and public service initiatives in Southside and Southwest Virginia.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who took office in January, has yet to name a successor to either job.
“The Internet for All programs are going to build on the great work Virginia has already been doing,” he said in a statement. “We encourage citizens to engage with both the FCC and [in 2023] Virginia’s broadband office, to ensure that no one is left out and we get every single home and business an affordable, reliable, high-speed connection to the internet.”
If Virginia has funds left over, it can use them for other purposes, such as digital equity initiatives in both rural and urban areas.
“There is an amazing opportunity for the commonwealth to both build universal infrastructure and stand up a digital equity program that will create tremendous opportunities for Virginia’s communities and economy,” Feinman said.
His agency will distribute an additional $5.75 billion through three other programs, including almost $2.8 billion in the Digital Equity Act. The FCC will allocate $14.2 billion to ensure that high-speed internet is affordable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will deploy $2 billion through the Rural Utilities Service, and $600 million will be available to underwrite private activity bonds to expand service.
The first step for Virginians is to review the FCC broadband map (https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home) for their area. If they disagree with information shown on the map, they can challenge it through the FCC website. The deadline for submitting a challenge is Jan. 13.
Warner said the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees state broadband initiatives, also is formulating a “statewide challenge” to the published map that he expects to “include thousands of locations that are unserved but currently noted as served.”
“Getting these maps right is the most important step we can take towards getting Virginia all the investments it needs to deploy universal broadband,” he said in his email to constituents.
“Now is the time to make sure we have the best data available so we can receive the maximum federal allotment, make the right targeted investments, and get Virginia universal coverage!”