In 2019, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing a 3-year pilot program allowing Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to provide (or make available) capacity to “nongovernmental” (private) internet service providers to areas currently without broadband access. As each utility upgrades grid infrastructure, there’s an opportunity to add broadband access. This is because the communication backbone of fiber optic cables connecting utility infrastructure can include additional capacity made available for “middle mile” internet traffic in areas currently lacking access.
Building on the success of the pilot, SB 1413 (Boysko) would make the program permanent while also streamlining the process whereby the State Corporation Commission (SCC) approves such infrastructure. SB 1413 has been assigned to Senate Commerce and Labor Committee for consideration.
HB 1923 (Ayala) would allow public internet service providers – such as local broadband authorities – to participate in the program to bring internet to unserved areas. HB 1923 passed unanimously in committee and is now headed to the House floor. VACo staff spoke in support of the bill.
In tandem these bills provide additional and robust assistance to counties that finance, build and operate open access networks for deployment to residents and businesses.