Connecting Virginia through Broadband
By Nicole Fisher
Capital News Service
Virginia has mapped out its future in connectivity, literally.
Gov. Tim Kaine has unveiled the state’s first broadband availability map. It shows which parts of Virginia currently have high-speed Internet access and which parts don’t. Armed with the data, officials hope to get more of the state wired.
“Affordable high-speed telecommunication services for all citizens are essential to Virginia’s success in the 21st century economy,” Kaine said.
Broadband has become an important tool for businesses as well as individuals.
In 2007, Kaine created the Broadband Roundtable, a group of government, education and business leaders charged with formulating a plan to make broadband available to every business in the commonwealth. The roundtable and its supporters have been working to push broadband access into the more rural areas of Virginia.
“Really, it is no longer a luxury; it’s becoming more like a utility,” said Karen Jackson, director of the state Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance. “You really can’t do without it.”
Virginia’s broadband availability map was released May 14. It was compiled with data from the state’s Center for Innovative Technology, Virginia Information Technology Agency and more than 25 service providers.
Virginia is among a handful of states that have such a map. Jackson said Virginia is the only state to develop a broadband availability map at no cost to citizens.
For several years, Virginia has been working on expanding broadband to areas without the service. About 700 miles of broadband lines were installed while Mark Warner was governor from 2002 to 2006.
“Broadband access is a priority for my administration, and we intend to build on the successes of the Warner administration,” Kaine said.
Kaine and other state officials hope the federal government’s economic stimulus plan will help fund Virginia’s broadband expansion projects.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will allocate $7.2 billion toward broadband funding. In June, federal officials plan to release the rules for applying for the stimulus money.
Virginia is positioning itself to apply for the funding by taking such steps as creating the broadband availability map.
“We as Virginia are being perceived as one of the states that get it,” Jackson said, citing Kaine’s creation of the Broadband Roundtable. “There has been such a proactive stance.”
One lingering question is, how affordable will broadband be in remote parts of Virginia?
The Broadband Roundtable, Warner and Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra (soon to become nation’s first chief technology officer) are working to keep broadband prices down, Jackson said.
“They are going for the most affordable options,” she said.
In sparsely populated Cumberland County, about 60 miles west of Richmond, Horace Marshall is all too familiar with the frustrations of not having high-speed Internet access.
“I’m able to do what I need to do, but not what I would like to do, such as gaming online and things like that,” Marshall said. “I would definitely be interested in subscribing to it as long as it is at a reasonable price.”
But broadband is not just for entertainment.
Businesses need broadband to stay competitive – and sell goods and services online. Many jobs require online access. And broadband offers educational benefits as well.
Even without the federal stimulus money, Virginia has been using other funds to expand broadband.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority is a nonprofit group established under the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act. Its goal is to expand broadband to businesses and residents along the Eastern Shore.
According to Pat Coady, the authority’s interim executive director, the Eastern Shore now has mainly traditional phone lines – and very limited broadband Internet service. His organization is working to establish an optic fiber backbone that will bring commercial and educational benefits to the Eastern Shore.
“There are a higher percentage of artisans who work either part time or full time compared to a lot of other areas,” Coady said. “Exposure on the Internet will help sell their products.”
A high-speed Internet connection also will allow for two-way video conferences and distance learning programs.
“You can take classes online without having to go to the universities themselves,” Coady said.
One of his group’s projects would expand broadband in Cape Charles, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Virginia Beach.
“We expect to see more business come because of the availability of this service,” said town planner Tom Bonadeo.
The Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance offers a toolkit to guide communities in creating their own broadband initiatives.
In anticipation of possible federal funding, citizens, groups and localities in Virginia submitted about 225 broadband project proposals to the Governor’s Stimulus Working Group. State officials are evaluating the proposals to determine which might merit funding.
For more information on the Web, visit:
www.esvabroadband.net – Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority
www.otpba.vi.virginia.gov – Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance
www.otpba.vi.virginia.gov/roundtable_toolkit.shtml – Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance Community Broadband Tool-kit
www.stimulus.virginia.gov – Proposed stimulus projects
Nicole Fisher is a journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tags: Virginia , Broadband
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