High-speed Internet access has become critical in the modern landscape. Infrastructure supporting broadband has been insufficient or non-existent in many areas, especially rural locations. The demanding needs of businesses, education, and government for bandwidth has grown exponentially. To address this digital divide, several projects have been completed or are in planning stages to bring universal high-speed Internet service to Hampton Roads businesses and residents. The March Map of the Month shows where these initiatives are located and how they tie together.
The City of Virginia Beach is home to a “digital port” at Corporate Landing Business Park which provides a landing center for three ultra-high-speed transatlantic fiber optic cables that connect the U.S. to Europe and South America. A fourth cable connecting to South Africa is planned. The cables carry Internet traffic between continents to the landing center in Virginia Beach which transfers it to data centers in northern Virginia and beyond.
Regional Connectivity Ring
The Regional Connectivity Ring is a fiber optic cable infrastructure project that will serve as a backbone for the digital ecosystem of Hampton Roads. It will eventually connect the entire region to the digital port in Virginia Beach. Phase I of the project will include a 119-mile fiber ring through the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Norfolk connecting local government centers, higher education facilities, and military installations (see the map below). Future phases of the project will connect the Southside to the Peninsula and the western localities. Construction for the first phase is set to begin later in 2022 with completion planned in 2023.
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Awards
The RDOF is an initiative of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring high speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that currently do not have it. Phase I was conducted in 2020 and several companies bid to provide broadband service in several areas in Hampton Roads (primarily Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, and Suffolk). The total investment will be over $23 million with completion required in six years.
Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) Awards
Similar to the RDOF, the VATI grant is awarded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to provide last-mile broadband service to unserved areas in Virginia. In 2021, the HRPDC partnered with Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, the City of Suffolk and Charter Communications to apply for VATI funds. The project was awarded over $21.1 million to bring broadband to over 12,000 unserved locations in those localities. Additional VATI grants were awarded to smaller areas in Surry, Chesapeake, and Gloucester in previous years. At the completion of these projects, there will be near universal broadband coverage in Hampton Roads. Read more about the details of the VATI grant here.