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VIRGINIA’S INTERNET IS ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE

As Lieutenant Governor, Sam will use his platform to amplify the voices of Virginians struggling with unaffordable broadband prices and inequities in broadband internet access. He will bring Virginians together to fight the power of regional internet monopolies, and demand lower prices and an end to corporate telecoms' influence in Richmond.

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THE PROBLEM

More than 697,000 Virginians don’t have broadband internet in their home, due to a lack of infrastructure or due to its unaffordability. Racial and regional disparities in high-speed internet access existed in Virginia prior to 2020, but COVID-19 has made the need for equitable access to affordable broadband more urgent. Workers without a reliable internet connection in the home don’t have opportunities to work from home, and many of their children are falling behind their classmates in school who have broadband at home. Virginia residents from old to young rely on reliable, affordable internet as a way to connect with family and friends, get check-ups from their doctor and access medicine, and sustain their businesses.

 

One root cause of these disparities is that it’s not profitable for the out-of-state, privately-owned ISPs to connect that “last mile” into many Virginians’ homes. National telecom monopolies don’t want competition from municipal or community-owned ISPs that would give customers another option and lower prices, so they spend millions of dollars lobbying state legislators to maintain a status quo that benefits their shareholders at the expense of the rest of us. 

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HOW TO DISCUSS

  • Internet has become the new electricity — a necessary utility in the home, and it’s time we treat it as such. All Virginians deserve access to reliable, affordable internet regardless of their zip code. 

  • Broadband internet is infrastructure. Imagine what would happen to our regional economies if we didn’t spend any money building and maintaining roads. In the 21st Century, internet connections should be prioritized the same way we prioritize other infrastructure.

  • Investing in broadband for all Virginians is the best way to encourage economic resilience that lifts up entire communities. For regions that have been hardest hit by closed factories and shrinking industries, widely-available internet can be a lifeline to re-tool, reimagine, and revitalize.

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POLICY SOLUTIONS

  1. Require The Big Telecoms to Offer An Affordable Basic Plan. The essential need for the Internet combined with a lack of competition has created artificially high prices for Virginians and outsized profits for a few, giant monopolies. Sam will fight to require, through the SCC, the major telecoms operating in the commonwealth to provide a basic broadband plan for a regulated rate, available to all Virginians. 
     

  2. Ban Campaign Donations From Big Telecoms. Sam’s campaign is entirely funded by individual donors. He has never taken campaign cash from Comcast, Verizon, Cox, or any of the big telecom companies, and his voting record in General Assembly reflects his commitment to modern tech infrastructure that serves working Virginians, not out-of-state corporations. By using their outsized profits on campaign donations, the big telecoms have rigged the rules in their favor to raise prices as high as they want. That must end.
     

  3. Collect Accurate Data On Who Has Access. The big ISP monopolies don’t want the public to know which areas have broadband access and which ones don’t, so they don’t share accurate information with the FCC or state governments. Sam wants accurate data to be collected and made widely available to all Virginians so we can make the best informed decisions. We need to know what areas ISPs aren’t serving, the actual speeds they are delivering, and what local customers are being charged in each neighborhood.
     

  4. End The Monopolistic Status Quo — Empower Localities And Co-ops To Build Public and Independent Alternatives. Virginia is one of 19 states that has put up unnecessary barriers and hurdles to building community broadband networks. These regulations include preventing municipal and independent networks from offering lower prices than the telecoms giants, as well as restrictions and requirements that the monopolies aren’t required to follow. We need to get rid of these lobbyist-written laws and instead encourage competition and innovation that will lower costs and expand access.
     

  5. Expand State Broadband Grant Programs For Locally-Owned Networks. Virginia can issue state bonds to help localities build broadband infrastructure. The people of Floyd County have already proven we can do it here. Citizens -o-op in Floyd has some of the best rural broadband connectivity in the state because it is customer-owned and locally operated.
     

  6. Free Broadband for Low-Income Public Housing Residents. The digital divide is also a function of poverty and a lack of resources, and communities of color are increasingly falling behind. Sam will work to establish a grant program through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development that provides publicly supported communities with computer equipment and free broadband internet, with a goal of establishing free broadband in all of Virginia’s eligible publicly supported communities by 2024.
     

  7. People’s Platform Policy — Allow Local Governments To Issue Bonds To Build The Networks. Under Dillon’s Rule, local governments don’t have much latitude in terms of what they are allowed to do without asking the legislature for permission on a case-by-case basis. We should empower local governments to invest in building broadband networks by allowing them to issue bonds for the build-out. (Emily, Blacksburg)