by Michael Deal in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 11, 2021
For rural Virginia counties like Middlesex and Lunenburg, the pandemic has focused attention on dead zones and the pressing need to address remote internet learning for students. Once in-person classes resume, rural counties’ long-term broadband access and affordability needs will remain. This episode explores how the digital divide developed in rural Virginia and why the “band-aid” solutions devised during the pandemic aren’t sustainable. Telecom industry campaign contributions and lobbying serve to limit competition and influence a regulatory environment in Virginia which is one of the three most onerous in the country.
County officials have placed broadband at the top of their limited budgets, but recognize there are no easy answers. Major telecoms lack a financial incentive to serve many in the community. County officials find it objectionable when politicians are influenced to write the rules to favor the incumbents and preclude more cost effective and sustainable alternatives.