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Sen. Warner meets on broadband access in Rockbridge

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 5:37 PM EDT
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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) spent a lot of time listening to local concerns at a meeting with local officials and co-op leaders at the BARC electrical cooperative’s Highland Belle facility, but as a former high tech businessman, he also spent a lot of time explaining his interest - “I don’t want to nerd out at the very beginning of this conversation,” he said at one point - and the work he is doing in Washington to bring broadband to rural areas.

“In 2021, broadband is an economic necessity,” Warner said after the meeting. “It’s not a ‘nice to have.’ It’s not going to guarantee you success, but if your kids don’t have access to high speed internet connections, they’re not going to get a fair shake.”

Mimicking its origins in rural electrification in the 1930s, BARC has been adding fiber optic lines to its poles to bring broadband to its underserved customers.

“To have him take an interest in BARC and everything that we’re doing and see the progress that we’re making, it’s a tremendous honor,” BARC CEO Mike Keyser, said.

“In many cases,” Warner explained, “a lot of the large providers, they may say they cover an area, but in reality you barely have cell phone service, let alone broadband.”

Warner said he has been working to get more in money into federal funding for broadband – over $17 million in the current infrastructure bill – but explained that how the money is distributed is even more important.

“In many communities, the deck is stacked in favor of the incumbents,” he said, “and we have not put in place I think the kind of programmatic and resources we need to incite really expanded high speed coverage.”

“We talked off line about having him come meet with all of the electric cooperatives in Virginia, and to see if we can spur more interest in building out rural broadband and let all the coops know what’s coming, and he seemed interested in doing that,” said Keyser. “So I think that’s the next step.”

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