WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01) held the third meeting of his First District Broadband Taskforce in Tappahannock. The purpose of the Broadband Task Force is to seek input from various federal, state and local leaders in addition to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) within the First District. Congressman Wittman was joined by Acting Assistant to the Secretary for US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development, Joel Baxley; Governor Northam’s Chief Broadband Advisor, Evan Feinman; Governor Northam’s Deputy Chief Broadband Advisor, Courtney Dozier; Virginia State Senator Ryan McDougle; Virginia Delegates Keith Hodges and Margaret Ransone; and Representatives from Cox Communications, Comcast, Atlantic Broadband, and KGI Communications.
The event was attended by over 80 members of the community.
A full recording of the meeting can be found here.
“The purpose of today’s discussions is to address the challenges to broadband expansion in unserved areas, to identify ways states and localities can partner with the federal government to better focus resources on unserved areas, and to develop innovative solutions that bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America. If we are going to get broadband systems built out as quickly as possible, it means we must leverage private dollars as well as public dollars – at the local, state, and federal level,” said Wittman.
The event featured two sessions: Rural Broadband and The Federal Perspective, and Rural Broadband Deployment in Virginia. Congressman Wittman also had Laurel Leverrier, USDA’s Deputy Administrator for Telecommunications Programs, present a preview of the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) ReConnect broadband grant and loan program and Deputy Chief Broadband Advisor, Courtney Dozier present a preview of the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI).
“All of these organizations in the federal government need to work together. We are starting there but we have a long way to go. So when we look to the local broadband folks in the area and we get that feedback, that feedback helps us build these programs and make them stronger,” said Acting Assistant to the Secretary for USDA’s Rural Development, Joel Baxley. Mr. Baxley, as the head of the office of Rural Development, oversees the operations of the RUS under the direction of Chad Rupe, Acting Administrator of the RUS. The RUS is responsible for executing telecommunications programs, within USDA, including the newly created USDA ReConnect broadband grant and loan program.
Currently almost 50% of rural Virginians either lack access to high speed internet or 29% don’t have any internet service at all. At this meeting, the Task Force discussed the unique challenges that are present in the region which hinder access to highspeed broadband services. This includes the labyrinth of red tape and regulations, cost of service, and varying geographic obstacles. Congressman Wittman believes that by addressing these issues and engaging federal agencies and other private stakeholders with localities, we can help bridge the digital divide.
As a co-chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, Rep. Wittman continues to be a leader on promoting access to broadband in rural areas. He has sent letters to both President Trump and Democratic leadership advocating for rural broadband expansion in future infrastructure projects. He, along with several colleagues, introduced the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019, which requires broadband providers to report service availability based on geometric location rather than traditional census blocks, to create an improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate, so that federal broadband funds can be better directed to areas that need it the most.
Congressman Rob Wittman represents the 1st District of Virginia. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, where he serves as the ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.