Rural broadband advocates announce formation of coalition
After the release of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s 2019-2020 biennial budget, which includes an increase in rural broadband funding, advocates of rural broadband announce the formation of the Virginia Rural Broadband Coalition (VRBC). The VRBC represents the many stakeholders who have a role in developing policies to encourage broadband expansion across rural Virginia. Members of the steering committee include: Erv Blythe, vice president emeritus for information technology and cio of Virginia Tech (retired); Jeremy Bryant, director of planning and zoning, Amherst County; Paul Elswick, president and CEO, Sunset Digital Communications; Rob Jones, CEO, Alliance Group – coalition director; Mike Keyser, CEO, BARC Electric Cooperative; Joe Lerch, director of local government policy, Virginia Association of Counties; Casey Logan, vice president of engineering, Price George Electric Cooperative; Laura Loveday, AICP, special projects and grants administrator, Culpeper County; Susan Seward, Chair of Sussex County Board of Supervisors; and Tom Swartzwelder, county administrator, King and Queen County.
Today, many individual localities are working hard to expand broadband access. These independent efforts are important in highlighting the severity of the problem for state and local elected officials. However, they lack the impact of a single voice for greater broadband connection across rural Virginia.
With the absence of a single voice to champion this issue, there has been less urgency for policymakers to move quickly in solving the problem. Virginia Rural Broadband Coalition members include business, government, electric cooperative and education leaders. Blythe said that “to compete in today’s global economy, rural Virginia must have access to reliable and fast internet services, otherwise we are not in a position to keep much less attract businesses and families to our rural regions of the commonwealth.”
The focus of Virginia Rural Broadband Coalition’s work would be to champion efforts to connect rural Virginians to the internet (business, government and residential customers); educate national, state and regional officials about success stories in Virginia that are being deployed to connect rural communities; identify funding pools for greater deployment of broadband in rural Virginia; engage business and civic leaders as champions for coalition initiatives; and educate coalition members on broadband types that can be provided in rural Virginia.
With the leadership of the VRBC, General Assembly and the governor’s administration, along with the investments in communities, businesses and infrastructure, rural Virginia can continue leading the way – strengthening the commonwealth’s economy, small towns and rural communities VRBC officials said in a statement.