For some, driving through the rural parts of Albemarle County, it means a dropped call or disrupted music streaming. For those living there, it means difficulty connecting to the internet — something that can affect many aspects of their lives.
On Friday, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, announced $28 million in federal funding for high speed internet infrastructure projects. The announcement was made at the Louisa County office building, but will affect many other counties, including Albemarle.
The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, which covers portions of Albemarle, will use some of the funding, and its executive director, Gary Wood, also spoke at the event.
In 2019, Spanberger spearheaded bipartisan efforts to protect such funding from being eliminated. After the Senate had removed it from an appropriations bill, she worked to include it in final budget legislation.
“I led a 49-member push, with the support on both sides of the aisle, to advocate for ReConnect, and I’m glad this funding was protected in the final budget legislation signed into law by President [Donald] Trump,” she said. “We can’t stop fighting for the infrastructure needs of our communities here in central Virginia.”
In the adjoining 5th District, Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman, has been a part of those rural efforts.
“Our rural communities need access to broadband to keep up with the demands of the modern economy.” Riggleman said in a statement after the event. “ Broadband will help communities close the digital divide which is critical to enhancing economic opportunity, job creation, access to healthcare and education in rural America. This investment will go a long way in closing that divide.”
As a topic that surfaced during central Virginia’s 2019 elections, and its current 5th District race, the preservation of ReConnect funding is something localities can continue to use and federal legislators can continue to build upon.
“The ReConnect funding is about more than just dollars,” Spanberger said. “This funding is an investment in our rural communities. It’s a sign of confidence that the commonwealth’s rural counties are excellent places to raise families, start businesses and retire.”
CVEC has been working since 2018 to bring broadband to the 14 counties it operates in. At the event, its president, Gary Wood, explained that the buildout investment takes a lot of time to see a return on.
“If you ever wonder why the digital divide is where it is, Verizon, Comcast, those types of companies can’t put $110 million dollars out and wait 11 years for a profit to carry back to shareholders,” Wood said. “Our board of directors accepted the challenge to make that work with the direction to go find partners to make the business case better.”
Over last summer, CVEC worked with Albemarle Broadband Authority (ABBA) and its subsidiary Firefly Fiber Broadband and received a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant to add fiber in the Crozet area. In January of this year, ABBA and Centurylink also received $293,000 VATI funding to service over 800 homes in Albemarle.
The secured availability for ReConnect funding means coops like CVEC will still have that resource to continue their missions as well.
According to Wood, there are two substations in Albemarle County that will be partially funded by the grant. The construction schedule for the substations has not been determined yet, but is expected within the next couple of years. “Albemarle funded partnership dollars, to improve the scores of the competitive project application, resulting in a five year program which will deliver broadband to the home for every one of CVEC’s customers in the County,” said White Hall supervisor Ann Malek. “The western end of the White Hall district is near the top of the list, with Free Union and Earlysville customers will follow.” “All of the counties have been very invested in this as well and that’s an important step,” Wood said. “But then at the federal level to come up with the money for the ReConnect program, is a real game changer.”