Bill would bring faster rural internet

Del. Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, right, speaks to reporters about House Bill 912 at Blandy Experimental Farm and State Arboretum of Virginia on Tuesday. Also pictured are Gov. Terry McAuliffe, center, and Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

BOYCE – Rural areas such as Clarke County may be seeing improved internet access soon if a bill signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday works as intended.

McAuliffe hailed the legislation as an important step in removing obstacles to high speed internet service by allowing broadband providers to install underground conduits for fiber optic cables along public highway right of ways.

“The key issue is we’ve got to make sure the commonwealth’s economy is growing in all parts of the commonwealth, and that’s one of the big reasons we’re here today because you cannot grow an economy if you do not have access to broadband,” McAuliffe said. “Many of our rural communities do not have access to broadband, and they’re struggling.”

Internet service that is “fast, reliable and affordable” is crucial to better education and more job opportunities in rural areas, McAuliffe added.

The sponsor of the legislation, Del. Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, praised McAuliffe for his strong support of efforts to expand broadband in underserved parts of the state. Minchew cited Clarke County as one of the areas that should benefit from the legislation.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe shows his signature after signing House Bill 912, which will allow broadband cables to run along public highways, during his visit to Blandy Experimental Farm and State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce on Tuesday. At right is Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

“You’re in an area where you have some of the most scenic beauty and some of the slowest broadband speed,” Minchew said, adding that he recently struggled with a sluggish credit card reader while trying to buy a bottle of local wine. He ended up paying cash.

Judy Masi, business administrator and tech coordinator at the arboretum, said the facility’s broadband service has made a big difference for researchers since it was switched on in December.

“It used to be that they had to download large files off site, maybe at home, where they had cable,” Masi said. “It means we can do research much more fluidly for researchers, uploading, downloading large data files.”

McAuliffe also touted a new initiative aimed at helping map parts of the state where the need for high speed internet is greatest.

Mapping will help state officials determine where $2.5 million to be spent on internet-related infrastructure improvements can be used most effectively, McAuliffe said.

The project will involve a crowd-sourcing technique that invites state residents to go online to a website, RUOnline.virginia.gov, or call toll free to 877-969-6685 to answer a few questions about where they live and what kind of service they are receiving.

“There is no silver bullet to reaching our goal,” McAuliffe said. “We must gather the information, we must lower the barriers and then, most importantly, we need to make the investments necessary to get the entire commonwealth fully connected.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com