Gov. McAuliffe Signs Bill Aimed at Boosting Rural Broadband

It was hailed as a big step toward bringing faster Internet to rural western Loudoun.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in neighboring Clarke County Tuesday to sign House Bill 912, which essentially allows broadband providers to install fiber and other infrastructure needed for high-speed Internet along gravel roads.

Del. Randy Minchew (R-10), a co-sponsor of the bill, said crafting the legislation was an effort of a lot of invested parties, including broadband providers like Comcast. A suggestion made by the providers was to allow them to install fiber conduit underground along gravel roads. That is less expensive than installing it above ground on poles because electrical companies charge a per-pole fee, Minchew said.

The companies will still need to obtain a permit from the Virginia Department of Transportation, he noted. But representatives from several broadband providers who attended the bill-signing told Minchew they plan to line up for permits when the law takes effect July 1.

“Hopefully, after July 1, we’ll see some much-needed broadband being laid,” he said.

He’s seen firsthand the need for faster Internet in much of Loudoun and its neighboring counties. He’s been at a winery when workers could not process credit card payments because of a poor Internet connection, and has run into students working on homework at Starbucks at 10 p.m. because they do not have access to high-speed Internet at home. “When kids can’t do their homework at home, that’s a problem,” he said. “Broadband is no longer a nicety in rural areas, it’s really a utility.”

As part of the bill-signing ceremony, McAuliffe also announced a new statewide initiative to better understand where Virginia has the largest gaps in broadband coverage. RUOnlineVA, which launched Tuesday and will run through early August, will use an online demand capture tool created by the Center for Innovative Technology and Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology.

Virginia residents in need of Internet service are asked to log onto or call 877-969-6685 and answer a few questions regarding where they live and what level of connectivity they have. Responses will be aggregated, mapped, and shared with state leaders and the public to stimulate broadband policy and funding discussions throughout the remainder of the administration.

“Broadband has become as essential as any utility for maintaining a high quality of life in our communities and meeting our economic and workforce development goals. Yet too many Virginia communities lack access to reliable, fast and affordable Internet connections,” McAuliffe said during the event. “RUOnlineVa is an important way for the Commonwealth to engage citizens and the private sector in fully understanding the problem and working to find solutions.”

The governor’s visit to the state arboretum came just hours after CNN reported that McAuliffe is under investigation by the FBI over donations to his 2013 gubernatorial campaign. Among the donations that drew investigators’ interest was $120,000 from a Chinese businessman, according to the report. An attorney representing the governor was quoted as saying that contributions to the campaign from Wang Wenliang were completely lawful.

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