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Broadband grant is giant step forward

Broadband internet is to the 21st Century what electrical service was to the 20th Century — a necessary service, vital to moving rural areas forward.

The $28 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative to expand broadband service in Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward and several other counties is great news for all of Southside Virginia. The fact that Buckingham County will be the first to receive the service is also welcome news.

The project is expected to extend high-speed fiber internet service to more than 17,000 households over 700 square miles.

While this is great news, we hope there is a solid plan in the works for Charlotte and Lunenburg counties where internet service needs immediate improvement. Charlotte County struggles with even having adequate cell service.

Recently Charlotte County received disappointing news that the county was no longer first in line to receive service from a $6 million Connect America grant awarded last fall. Construction on the network was supposed to begin at the beginning of this year but now, it is unclear when building the internet infrastructure will begin.

Broadband service is critical to economic development and telecommuting workers who have the ability to choose where they want to live as long as they have a fast, reliable internet connection. Rural areas are attractive to many telecommuters who are for a slower pace, less traffic and small-town values found in the rural areas of Southside Virginia, but none of that works if broadband internet is not available.

The service is also critical to school children who are now being compared to students in other parts of the state where broadband has been available for years.

This grant is wonderful news for our area and a milestone worth celebrating. The sooner the lines begin connecting those 17,000 homes, the better.