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Grayson County gets approval for pilot project to expand high-speed internet

Grayson County is on its way to significantly improving its broadband access through a new project aimed at narrowing the digital divide in rural areas.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission gave initial approval for a pilot project in Grayson County to allow Virginia’s two largest electric utilities — Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co. — to install cables that would carry broadband into hard-to-reach areas.

The pilot begins at a crucial time when many people have to transition their work and children’s education to home. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the widespread lack of high-speed internet in U.S. homes at a time when it has become more essential than ever.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who has made broadband expansion a major priority for his term in office, signed a bill into law last year to authorize this project.

Appalachian Power and Dominion are in the process of modernizing as part of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. They are laying fiber-optic cable across Virginia to bring broadband to electric substations.

So why not have the utilities lay more for rural broadband? Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, shepherded the bill through the General Assembly to allow them to do just that.

“I’m grateful to the SCC for seeing the merits of this project,” O’Quinn said in a statement. “Our schools, libraries and public safety agencies will have service, and residents will finally have the ability to perform normal everyday functions online.”

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