BROADBAND internet is essential. The struggle to make it universal is reminiscent of the effort to bring electricity to every home in the first half of the last century.
The digital divide is a major impediment to those on the dark side of it. Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have high-speed internet access. The numbers are worse for low-income groups and for those living in rural areas.
Teleworking, remote health care and many other things are off the table for those who don’t have broadband. Recruiting businesses into unserved areas is understandably difficult.
The COVID-19 pandemic only makes the gap more obvious. With the likelihood that many schools will have to depend on distance learning for at least part of the upcoming school year, not having broadband means some kids will fall behind their more affluent and/or urban and suburban peers.
It doesn’t get much more rural than the Northern Neck, where broadband is still a coming attraction for many. Now, though, there does seem to be a light at the end of the digital tunnel, if everything works out as hoped.
The plan is for Dominion Energy to run cable from Northern Virginia through the Northern Neck. Then All Points Broadband will construct a broadband network that extends the so-called final mile to unserved households and businesses in King George, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland counties.
The boards of the four counties have voted unanimously to join the initiative. All Points Broadband has done similar projects in communities throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky.
Unfortunately, change won’t come in time to help school kids this fall. The network will be several years in the making. Still, there is a solid plan to make it happen. Dominion, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative and All Points will pay 60 percent of the cost, with the state providing 30 percent and the counties themselves kicking in the other 10 percent (about $1.3 million.)
Much depends on the state doing its share, through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI). The counties should know between November and January of next year whether the VATI grant for $3.9 million is approved. Richmond County Administrator Morgan Quicke is optimistic that the money will be forthcoming. The project also is contingent on State Corporation Commission approval.
As the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tommy Tomlin said, “Broadband is not a luxury but an essential utility.”
It can’t come soon enough for the Northern Neck.