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Wittman delivers wins in funding package to close the digital divide in Virginia

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Washington, December 22, 2020 | comments

WASHINGTON – Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01) issued the following statement after voting in favor of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which fully funds the government through September 30th, 2021, and provides additional COVID-19 pandemic relief, relief to small businesses and American workers, and measures to close the digital divide across in Virginia and the nation.

“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. “The new realities and the certain upcoming new normal have left millions of rural Americans, who have inadequate or no connectivity to high-speed broadband, feeling abandoned and in need of relief to compete in the 21st Century economy.

“The government funding and COVID-19 relief package Congress passed this week funds many of the critical broadband priorities of the First Congressional District. From additional monies for broadband grants, to funding for the vital ReConnect program, to the inclusion of a temporary FCC telehealth pilot program, this package goes a long way to closing the digital divide in our nation.

“I will continue advocating for the people of Virginia’s First Congressional District in Washington and will do my utmost to ensure Congress remains accountable to the people we serve.”

“Americans need high speed internet technologies more than ever before during COVID-19 to work, learn, and receive health care from home,” said Congressman Greg Walden (R, OR-02). “Rep. Rob Wittman has championed efforts to close the digital divide. While we wish Democrats would have come to the table sooner, we are proud to have several bipartisan wins today on smart policies to connect more Americans across communities in all zip codes, and Rep. Wittman’s efforts to expand broadband services in rural and underserved areas played a vital role in these successes.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes key broadband funding directly advanced by Congressman Wittman:

  • Creates a new $300 Million Broadband Grant Program, as envisioned in Congressman Wittman’s Serving Rural America Act
  • Provides $732 million for rural broadband, the highest level in history, including $635 million for the ReConnect broadband pilot for unserved and underserved areas as well as $60 million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants
  • Fully funds the Broadband DATA Act by appropriating $65 million dollars to carry out Title VIII of the Communications Act of 1934 so federal funds can be more efficiently targeted to close the digital divide
  • Appropriates an additional $250 million to the FCC to carry out the temporary telehealth pilot program authorized under the CARES Act and requires that the Commission equitably distributes the funding to the extent feasible

As co-chair of the bipartisan House Rural Broadband Caucus, Congressman Wittman has worked tirelessly to close the digital divide for the people of our region, the Commonwealth, and the nation. This year alone, Congressman Wittman 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.

At the end of September, Congressman Wittman hosted a public Telephone Town Hall on Broadband with Governor Northam’s Chief Broadband Advisor Evan Feinman and constituents of the First District to answer questions related to broadband and connectivity, services, and programs to help close the digital divide for rural Americans.

Earlier this year, Congressman Wittman authored letters of support to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Broadband advocating for 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.

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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