Working from home for Virginians may get a whole lot easier. The state is taking two initiatives to close the digital divide that impacts many towns in rural parts of the state. The aim is to expand high speed internet access and spur economic development in more rural parts of the state.
The first is a $16 million project funded by the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative designed to build a fiber-optic backbone along the Virginia shore in which the state would invest $3 million of earmarked funds. The idea behind building out such a structure is to give rural businesses a chance to grow and compete in the online economy.
Said Ian McLaughlin, a resident of Melfa, Virginia who works from home:
“The project being funded from Richmond is not really aimed at domestic uses at all…It is really aimed at putting lower cost high-speed applications here to allow existing business and entrepreneurial-type applications, but also to stimulate new business growth."
State investment in expanding high speed internet access to rural towns represents a big step in addressing the digital divide. Delegate Lynwood Lewis who championed the initiative points out that:
“It is more to establish our competitiveness as a rural region in the 21st century economy…It is not about getting your order into L. L. Bean faster, though that might be an ancillary benefit."
Yet one major question still remains. How much will local businesses actually be affected by expanded high speed internet access? Such is the intent behind the second initiative – to “determine if expanding coverage in key areas will result in business growth and job generation.”
If the fact finding mission comes out in favor of an expansion, the state can move forward in deciding who will provide the high speed internet access.
"It is about job generation. This is about affordable high, high-speed broadband," said Barbara Schwenk, a member of the planning commission who is helping to oversee the initiative. It is also about closing the digital divide and opening up high speed internet access for all small businesses and residents.