Broadband access, also known as high-speed internet access, is now integral in the daily lives of virtually all Virginians. What was once seen as a luxury, or something essential only to business, is now needed in many areas of our daily activities. Reliable broadband access is critical to your business and the lives of your clients. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the need for dependable connections to work remotely, educate virtually, access health care via telemedicine, and shop for basic household necessities.
Understanding the value of internet access to homeownership, Virginia REALTORS® has supported policies and funding to expand and develop broadband internet access in the Commonwealth for many years.
As with other major policy discussions and debates, Virginia REALTORS® has played a lead role. Your Government Relations has demonstrated to legislative leaders the importance of reliable, affordable broadband to homeownership and stable housing options for all Virginians.
Here is recap of legislation and budget items that passed the General Assembly to expand broadband development in Virginia. The Governor has until March 31st to approve, amend, or veto any legislative item.
- $50 million in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 for the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), an organization that extends broadband service to currently unserved areas. VATI prepares communities to build, utilize, and capitalize on telecommunications infrastructure with the goal of creating strong, competitive communities.
- A new VATI pilot in which public broadband authorities may apply directly for Virginia Telecommunications Initiative funds without investment from the private sector.
Mapping (Budget Language)
Provides the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) $424,000 to create a statewide broadband availability map with service territory data submitted by Virginia broadband providers. The published map will be anonymized, showing locations served and unserved by broadband without reference to any specific provider. DHCD will also establish a process to petition map inaccuracies.
Utility Leverage (HB2304/SB1413)
Makes permanent the pilot program under investor-owned electric utilities may provide broadband capacity to unserved areas of the Commonwealth. The bill provides that investor-owned electric utilities may recover costs of and revenue generated from providing broadband capacity that serves as an electric grid transformation project in areas unserved by broadband, as defined in the bill. The bill consolidates the State Corporation Commission petition approval process into one hearing and streamlines the process by which an area is determined eligible. It also allows municipal broadband authorities to participate.
Digital Equity (budget language)
Directs the Department of Social Services, in coordination with Chief Broadband Advisor, to design a program that provides a fixed reimbursement, which shall not exceed $15 monthly, for broadband service costs for select households currently participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The department shall report on the program design and structure, administrative cost estimates, program guidelines, and other relevant information related to implementing the program to the Chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees by November 1, 2021.
Broadband Programs and Schools (SB1225)
Authorizes school boards to appropriate funds for the purposes of promoting, facilitating, and encouraging the expansion and operation of broadband services for educational purposes. The bill authorizes school boards to partner with private broadband service providers to promote, implement, and subsidize broadband for educational purposes to the households of students who would qualify for (i) a child nutrition program or (ii) any other program recognized or adopted by the local school board as a measuring standard to identify at-risk students.
If you have any questions or comments about the Virginia REALTORS® advocacy efforts, reach out to us at email@example.com.
*Information as of 03/24/20