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Wittman hosts Broadband Telephone Town Hall with Governor’s Chief Broadband Advisor Evan Feinman

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Washington, October 2, 2020 | comments

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01) hosted a public Telephone Town Hall on Broadband with Governor Northam’s Chief Broadband Advisor Evan Feinman with constituents of the First District to answer questions related to broadband connectivity, services, and programs to help close the digital divide for rural Americans. Click here to listen to the full audio of the town hall.

“As our nation deals with the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are doing their utmost to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus by utilizing telework, distance learning, and telehealth capabilities,” Congressman Wittman said. “This broadband-specific call allowed me the opportunity to hear directly from individuals in our region on the issues they have faced during the pandemic and provide updates on my work to help bridge the divide and increase access to quality, reliable broadband services. The new normal has left millions of rural Americans, who have inadequate or no connectivity to high-speed broadband, to feel abandoned as they are in desperate need of relief to compete in the digital economy. I want to thank Advisor Feinman for joining me on this call and for his insights on how we can work together at the federal, state, and local level to address these challenges and achieve results for Virginians.”

“Just as Governor Northam has made broadband a priority, getting over 108,000 Virginia homes and businesses connected, Congressman Wittman has been a champion for disconnected Virginians, leading effort after effort in the Congress to get more Virginians online,” said Advisor Feinman. “I was thrilled to join him for a town hall and help inform the citizens of the 1st district about the great work he's doing for them in DC.”

Example questions asked during the call:

‘When will there be reliable wifi in the whole district, especially as people are working from home during COVID-19?’ – Melissa

“You’ll see more happen in the next two years than we’ve seen happen in the past ten years. … Our effort is to get this rolled out as quickly as possible. [Lack of broadband coverage] is affecting students, it’s affecting businesses, it’s affecting the efforts telehealth. In fact, I have had meetings with folks across the district to look at things we can do to get that rolled out [quickly]. … We are trying to get to those areas where we can serve the greatest number of people possible at the lowest cost.” – Congressman Wittman

‘When would the VATI grant decision be made [to assist local counties]?’ – Vaughn, King George

“We hope to have the VATI awards announced in December. We can’t credibly do it any sooner than that, both because we need to get through [the federal government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction period], and because we may have to rescope the awards based on those funds.” – Advisor Evan Feinman

This call is just the latest in a series of work Congressman Wittman has undertaken to close the digital divide for Virginians and people across the nation.

Just last week, Congressman Wittman announced that he authored five letters to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Broadband in support of ten VA-01 counties’ FY 2021 Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant applications to expand reliable high-speed broadband service to rural Virginia. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) extends broadband service to currently unserved areas. VATI prepares communities to build, utilize, and capitalize on telecommunications infrastructure with the goal of creating strong, competitive communities. 

Also last month, Congressman Wittman received a letter from Dept. of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in response to Congressman Wittman’s June letter to President Trump requesting the prioritization of direct funding support for rural broadband development in the President’s upcoming infrastructure proposal. In his letter, Secretary Ross detailed the Administration’s efforts to bring improved broadband services and access to more Americans. As part the Commerce Department’s shared leadership of the Administration’s American Broadband Initiative, the Department released a Progress Report on June 25 detailing steps that Federal agencies have taken to make funding available for broadband deployment across the country. The report also describes coordination activities related to Federal broadband programs with other Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) also has been involved in discussions with state, regional, and local government officials and industry representatives who are keenly aware of the vital role that broadband plays in supporting American families, businesses, and overall health and public safety.

In March, Congressman Wittman introduced the Serving Rural America Act (HR 6456), legislation to create a five-year pilot program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), authorizing $100 million a year for a total of $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved Americans. Congressman Wittman has also hosted two virtual Fireside Chats with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr alongside local government leaders, tribal leaders, and key Virginia broadband stakeholders to discuss the FCC’s work on rural broadband buildout, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), telehealth, and what the FCC is doing to help communities during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the Serving Rural America Act, he has helped draft the Broadband DATA Act, which requires providers report service availability based on more granular geolocation rather than traditional census blocks to improve the National Broadband Map, and Co-sponsored the MAPS Act, which makes it unlawful for ISPs to willfully, knowingly, or recklessly submit inaccurate coverage information to the FCC.

Congressman Wittman serves as a co-chair of the bipartisan House Rural Broadband Caucus.

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.

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