Expanding Access to High Speed Internet
Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet service is critical to every Virginian for work, for school, for accessing health care, for agriculture, and, recently, for pre-registering for a COVID vaccine. This pandemic has shown that the digital divide is very real and growing. Low-income urban neighborhoods and rural areas are falling behind at faster rates on access to affordable broadband, and we simply cannot allow these disparities to persist.
In a 21st Century Virginia, access to high-speed internet is an imperative. Moreover, for Virginia to grow and attract economic development, we must strive to become the most connected state in the nation.
As Lieutenant Governor, Andria will ensure Virginia prioritizes connectivity, skills, innovation and an economy of tomorrow.
Most Connected State in the Nation
- Ensure ubiquitous broadband access by leading an Internet Access for All Task Force made up of industry; academia; philanthropy; local, state and federal government leaders; and, representatives of affected communities to accelerate current efforts, identify best practices from other states, pilot new technologies and find new funding mechanisms and consider municipal financing options.
- Support the expansion of a statewide broadband team to include administration representatives from Commerce, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Housing, Emergency Management, Education, Health, Agriculture, Diversity and Transportation.
- Provide access to state databases to ease and expedite the verification process of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a device.
- Expand Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grants to ensure all unserved rural communities are connected to broadband, utilizing updated mapping data to confirm broadband connectivity through a statewide speed test initiative, and funding new technologies (e.g. Low Earth-Orbit (LEO) satellites) and expanded partnerships.
- Conduct public regional planning or Town Hall-like meetings to gather input as broadband infrastructure deployment so as to hear affordability concerns, especially in regions of above state average poverty to alleviate access concerns.
- Target state resources into underserved communities to ensure equity in access to high-speed internet, and work to increase internet competition so families have more choices at a lower cost.
Connecting all of our students
- Connect all Virginia students and eliminate the “homework gap” and the growing digital divide, ensuring all students have access to affordable, high-speed internet; appropriate devices and digital-literacy skills; and, increase access to professional development for teachers to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to teach in a remote environment.
- Create an annual “educational connectivity census” through the Department of Education which will track access to high speed, affordable internet and devices with students in Virginia’s K-12 schools.
- Invest in digital training at all levels, from K-12 to higher ed to senior centers, through partnerships with community organizations and public-private partnerships, like the Microsoft TEALS program, to teach digital literacy skills and provide the digital aptitude necessary to thrive in the 21st Century Virginia economy.
- Expanding resources to complete degrees online through Virginia universities.
- Work to reduce the cost of devices for students through a statewide procurement contract.
Promoting a 21st century Virginia Economy
- Leverage the ultra high-speed subsea broadband cables landing in Virginia Beach to create economic development opportunities in data centers, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, fintech and innovation throughout the Commonwealth.
- Support the creation of additional data centers in economically distressed locations such as the Central Appalachian Mountains. Use these centers to mitigate the loss of fossil fuel extraction jobs. Special attention should be given to use former underground mine water for geothermal cooling, in addition to solar farms, to power such locations. Tax incentives to boost economic transition in the region should be activated promptly to encourage location in Virginia’s economically distressed localities.
- Ensure our agriculture community is connected to broadband to provide access to advanced ag technologies and improve crop output.
- Expand digital training opportunities with the Virginia Department of Small Business to ensure small businesses have the ability to create an online presence and the necessary skills and connectivity to sell their goods and services online.
- Support the expansion of data science and computer science programs at UVA-Wise and other universities to open up opportunities for employment in the tech and innovation fields and attract business to communities across the commonwealth.
Providing access to equitable health care
- Focus on closing the “last mile” to homes to ensure equitable access to telemedicine and telemental health visits.
- Codify Virginia’s telehealth regulations to allow for telehealth visits post-COVID and outside of a state of emergency; moreover, advocate for a statewide mandate for telehealth parity allowing for telehealth visits to be covered at the same rates as in person visits, beyond the current emergency.
- Provide more rural health care options by creating “telehealth centers” to allow residents a stable internet connection in a safe, private space to communicate with a health care professional; and, work with existing community health centers to ensure they have the proper high-speed internet connections and devices to provide telehealth services to their remote patients.
Andria has worked for years to expand access to high-speed, affordable internet:
- Andria led regional efforts to create a five-city, 110-mile broadband fiber ring in Hampton Roads which will provide access to the fastest internet speeds on the East Coast, increase internet provider competition, and lower prices for millions of people and companies in Hampton Roads.
- Serves as Vice Chair of the Southside Network Authority which oversees the implementation of this inter-city fiber ring.