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CARES funds may boost broadband

Bringing broadband access to rural Virginia would help put less populated areas on more of an equal footing with metro and suburban areas. With Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement Wednesday, Oct. 7, that Virginia is allocating $30 million in CARES funding to improve broadband access in underserved localities, Lunenburg County officials are hoping to be on the receiving end of some of the funds quickly.

The governor’s announcement was brought to the forefront during the planning and economic development update portion of the Lunenburg Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting Thursday, Oct. 8.

“Everybody is talking about rural broadband,” Supervisor Wayne Hoover said. “It’s a commonwealth issue, but being small, you would think that that would help us get to the forefront of some of these funds.”

During the discussion, Glenn Millican Jr., the Lunenburg planning commission clerk, added, “You cannot survive in business without broadband. We need it, and we need it badly.”

Localities must apply for the funding. Eligible projects are those able to be completed within the time constraints on spending federal dollars, which means more Virginians could get connected to high-speed broadband internet by the end of the year.

Hoover said he felt broadband was an issue of who was going to provide the service to the equipment.

“I think that is the problem. That is what we don’t have,” he said.

County Administrator Tracy Gee told the board she spoke with Jim Garret, president of Kinex Telecom, to inquire about the county’s wireless possibilities.

“He and I had discussed wireless internet possibilities before, and he said he felt like it would be a positive opportunity,” Gee said, “We talked for about half an hour today, and he said that he felt confident that within the next couple of years, Lunenburg would be in the middle of a broadband project. However I told him that right now we are in more dire need than we have ever been, so I want a solution that we can have before December 30. So, he’s going to look into the possibility of an application for wireless and see if that will fall within the parameters of this grant.”

As of press time, Garrett has not responded to several email requests if he will seek out a grant for internet services for the county.

The CARES Act funding allocated to this initiative is separate from other broadband funding streams. Localities are encouraged to creatively address the digital divide, including projects that address infrastructure or the cost of broadband services.

“Broadband is to today’s economy like electricity was generations ago—when you have it, you can get ahead,” Northam said. “High-speed internet is essential for students to connect to education, business to connect to the wider world and citizens to connect to work. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more clear, as so much of our lives have moved to virtual platforms.”