The gravity of the broadband access issue in Virginia can be captured in one tweet.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, hosted a forum at Louisa County High School in Mineral. “Our #VA07 Rural Broadband Summit is beginning shortly!” she tweeted. “Our panelists @akmeacham, @Ali_Christopher, and Richard Jenkins from @USDA are up first. Follow today’s conversation in the thread below.”
Therein lies the problem. For nearly half of the residents in Louisa County, a high-speed connection to follow the conversation online is out of reach. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 broadband deployment report, only 55.6% have access to the federal benchmark for a fixed broadband connection: 25 megabytes per second for downloads and 3 megabytes per second for uploads.
After traveling around the 7th District to hold several town halls this summer, Spanberger told The Times-Dispatch on Monday that “broadband access in central Virginia is a regional issue,” affecting suburban and urban areas as well. Strong internet connections affect business, education, health care and other public policy matters, she added.
Spanberger’s argument matches feedback from constituents. In April, her office launched a rural broadband survey. Outside of basic contact information, the main question was: “How has a lack of high-speed broadband internet access impacted your life?”
By July, her office received 139 responses, showcasing a range of personal and professional reasons why reliable, high-speed internet is critical for their households and businesses.
Amy Snyder of Louisa said her son faced difficulties completing homework assignments. Thomas Watkins of Nottoway said his small business struggled to compete with internet retailers. Robyn Whittington of Amelia said her family’s farm fell behind on simple tasks like making payments.
And don’t overlook the obvious — accessing the questionnaire from Spanberger, or any other form of information online.
“I have been trying to take this survey for hours!” wrote Reginia Sibley of Louisa. “Enough said!!! The lack of consistent, reliable internet service hinders everything we do; from receiving reliable emergency notifications and important news or weather warnings that could impact our lives in life-or-death situations; for research and education; for staying ‘in the know’ and bettering our knowledge of what is directly impacting our lives every single day; to the basics of receiving and paying our bills in a timely manner.”
We commend Spanberger’s emphasis on in-person opportunities for constituents to voice these kinds of specifics. For some Virginians, it’s hard to imagine how taking a simple survey could be such a difficult task. For others, it’s a daily reality they’ve been waiting for hours to complete — and years to improve.
— Chris Gentilviso