(Left to right) Tamarah Holmes, Broderick Johnson, Janet Yellen and Meg Bohmke. (Photo by Kathy Knotts)

Yellen visits Stafford as part of effort to ensure rural areas no longer lag behind with broadband access

by | May 14, 2024 | ALLFFP, Business, Stafford, Technology

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen visited Stafford County Monday as part of President Joe Biden’s “Investing in America Agenda” to promote high-speed internet in rural areas. 

Representatives from Comcast walked Yellen through some examples of the equipment used to set up and maintain high-speed broadband networks, although much of the fiber-optic cable network is underground. The site on Richland Road represents nearly 700 homes in the western part of the county that now have access to service. 

“The financial and educational impact is enormous,” said Meg Bohmke, chair of the Stafford Board of Supervisors. “Before this project, we received multiple calls from residents who had moved here from elsewhere and could not secure Internet access. We also received calls from residents who struggled to sell their homes because they did not have Internet access. We got calls from parents who had to drive their children to the library parking lot to complete assignments.” 

In 2022, Virginia received over $200 million in funding to expand high-quality broadband service to communities across the commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF). That’s in addition to the nearly $600 million in state and local fiscal recovery funds being invested in broadband and almost $1.5 billion allocated to the state through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

“Our sole responsibility under Gov. Youngkin is making sure that every Virginian has access to affordable, high-speed Internet,” said Tamarah Holmes, director of the Virginia Office of Broadband, who was on site for Yellen’s visit. “It’s important, because we have to make sure folks can participate efficiently in the 21st century through telehealth opportunities, through education, remote working and even distance learning.”

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen speaks with a Comcast representative in Stafford County Monday.

“It’s really impactful for the residents here to have broadband,” said Kristopher Schneider, senior manager of corporate communications for Comcast. “This is one of many examples of public-private partnerships to connect these rural communities to high speed.” 

The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) helps local governments partner with internet service providers to apply for funds to achieve universal coverage. 

Across the region, the actual number of those going without internet is debatable. “We do have a statewide broadband map now,” Holmes said. “We actually have been mapping broadband at the location level even before the Feds did, and so the number kind of fluctuates. Officially we think there are about 162,000 locations that don’t have a funded source for broadband.” 

Comcast has invested nearly $900 million in the technology and infrastructure in the state over the last three years, said Broderick Johnson, executive vice president for public policy and executive vice president for digital equity with Comcast. “I have seen firsthand the transformative power our partnerships can have on communities like this community, the many lives being changed. And today we’re here to demonstrate again what we can accomplish working together across government and industry.” 

Johnson added that the company anticipates adding more than one million additional addresses to the network this year. 

Yellen said that increasing access to affordable internet is vital for economic opportunity nationwide, pointing out that manufacturing and installing the cable creates new jobs — many of them union jobs. She pointed out that jobs created from building the networks are just one positive impact; high-speed internet access is also crucial to boosting productivity and growth

“Investing in high-speed internet is an administration-wide priority — with the goal of connecting every American by 2030. It’s a key example of our agenda to expand our economy’s capacity to produce in order to drive growth while increasing opportunity for people in places that haven’t had enough of it.” 

“High-speed internet isn’t a luxury and it’s not been for a long time ago now,” Yellen said. “Access in this country hasn’t been evenly distributed in rural areas. Around 1/3 of households don’t have reliable high-speed access, and that is just unacceptable.” 

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