November 9, 2021

Cameron Foundation pledges up to $1.15 million for Governor’s Commonwealth Connect Fund

The Cameron Foundation has committed up to $1,150,000 in funds to dramatically improve broadband access for residents of Dinwiddie and Sussex counties. The awards are being made to Governor Northam’s Commonwealth Connect Fund, which was announced Thursday, and are restricted solely for broadband construction in those two localities.

“This is a rare opportunity to work in partnership with the private sector as well as local, state and federal agencies to bring about transformational change in some of the rural communities we serve,” noted The Cameron Foundation’s President, J. Todd Graham.

Governor Northam’s Commonwealth Connect Fund has been established to expand broadband access to underserved locations across Virginia. The Cameron Foundation is coordinating with Dinwiddie and Sussex counties to match other potential funding for these efforts.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, demand for high-speed internet access, known as broadband, soared to new heights as individuals used it for such activities as work and study from home, applying for unemployment benefits, seeing friends, and visiting the doctor. Tens of millions of Americans either lack access to or cannot afford quality internet service. This gap is particularly acute in rural areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic elevated the critical nature of access to fast and affordable internet service for people. The importance of engaging in a collaborative effort to create universal broadband access in some of our local rural counties cannot be overstated,” Graham added.

The Foundation has pledged up to $650,000 for broadband expansion across Dinwiddie County. According to Federal Communications Commission mapping, over 5,000 locations in the county lack access to broadband internet. “Universal broadband continues to be a top priority of our Board of Supervisors. This generous support of The Cameron Foundation, combined with state and local funding, will position us to make universal broadband a reality in Dinwiddie County,” said W. Kevin Massengill, Dinwiddie County Administrator.

The Foundation also has committed up to $500,000 to build out fiber broadband connections to unserved areas of Sussex County. The Federal Communications Commission shows more than 4,000 homes and businesses fall into that category. Sussex County Administrator Richard Douglas noted that, “Through this plan, we are working to close gaps in both access and affordability for our community.”

Data from the Virginia Department of Health’s website shows that both localities fare worse than the state rates in broadband equity indicators. In Dinwiddie County, 74.5% of households have a broadband subscription, compared with the Virginia rate of 83.9%. In Sussex, the rate of 66.4% is considerably lower. Additionally, contrasted with Virginia’s rate of 4.4%, the population without broadband access in Dinwiddie and Sussex is 34% and 21.6%, respectively.

While some of the funding is secured, both localities are still pursuing state funds to raise the balances needed to achieve universal broadband access in their counties. If successful, work can begin as early as the summer of 2022.

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