Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in Clarke County Tuesday morning to sign “The Broadband Expansion” Bill.
The governor was joined by Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson, Rep. Chris Collins (R-29), Rep. Randy Minchew (R-10), Rep. David LaRock (R-33), members of the Clarke County government and other members of the community at Blandy Experimental Farms to sign House Bill 912 into law.
Some local legislators said this is the first time in recent memory that a Virginia governor has visited Clarke County.
“We can’t recall the last time a governor has been in Clarke County to sign a bill. It might have been as far back as when Gov. Byrd, a resident of Clarke County, was governor,” Minchew said.
The last time Byrd was in office was 1965.
Half a century later, McAuliffe made history in Clarke County and expanded access to high speed internet – something the governor said he wants to do for the rest of Virginia.
“It’s a very ambitious goal, but by the time I leave office, I at least want the plans in place that every part of the commonwealth of Virginia has access to high speed internet,” McAuliffe said.
Funds of $2.5 million are earmarked in the budget for infrastructure to make that happen.
The bill, introduced by Minchew, allows VDOT to install materials for broadband cables, or “conduit,” underneath gravel roads, which Minchew said serves 80 percent of rural Virginia, including Clarke County.
Minchew said his constituents in Clarke need high speed internet, badly.
“We have some of the most gorgeous areas of Virginia and some of the slowest broadband. I mean there are people within a half mile of here who are still using their AOL dial-up,” he said.
According to Minchew, those he spoke to within the private sector broadband business said one mile of fiber optic cables could be laid a night under gravel roads and there would be little trace of the construction work the next day.
All you would have left is invisible, high speed internet, which Minchew said will benefit farmers and winery owners in Clarke County.
According to McAuliffe, broadband is required for efficient business.
“You clearly can’t grow a business [with slow internet]. If you’ve got a small mom and pop business and you want to sell and you want to go to Ali Baba and China, you don’t have the ability to do that so cannot open yourself up to world markets,” he said.
The bill will hopefully help business in rural areas, but it could also help students.
Minchew said broadband providers want contracts in densely populated places, like cities and suburbs. He said rural areas are less attractive for broadband providers because the area coverage is the same, but less people use it.
Minchew said he’s watched kids struggle to get homework done because they’re in search of a place that offers the high speed internet that’s not always available at home.
“That means that rural kids can’t have the same opportunities as kids in suburban areas,” Minchew said.
The bill will allow for the installation of faster internet service that will be available at homes in rural Virginia.
The governor also introduced a new initiative called RUOnlineVA, which provides the means for individuals and business to let McAuliffe’s administration know where internet service is poor.
When asked about an FBI investigation into what some called illegal campaign finances, McAuliffe maintained his innocence.