EDITORIAL: Monitoring Virginia Broadband ROI | Editorial
When Governor Ralph Northam began his term in 2018, around 660,000 Virginians did not have access to high-speed internet. The staggering figure was a metric that the governor, whose hometown on the east coast was among the unserved places, took personally.
Northam grew up on a farm just outside Onancock on the east coast. His hometown was among the unserved places, and long before the COVID-19 pandemic became the driving issue of broadband policy, he channeled his personal experience into a sense of urgency.
Last month, near the end of his term, Northam stepped onto the podium at a Goochland County fire station with a sense of accomplishment. He announced $722 million in new grants that would support 35 broadband projects in 70 communities across Virginia. About 278,000 homes, businesses, and community institutions were on track to have broadband service, and Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024.
But the metrics that have shaped recent broadband efforts, driven by the number of unconnected homes and businesses, must change in the future. Virginia needs to measure ROI by collecting hard data on “who” gets new internet services and “where” they are placed. Let’s go back to Northam’s original case for the pursuit of universal broadband. Virginia’s digital divide was caused by a “fundamental math problem,” the governor’s team explained in its Commonwealth Connect report. For private providers, the cost of building 1 mile of service in Arlington and Accomack counties might be the same, but densely populated areas like Arlington offer more potential customers.