Governor Ralph Northam announced the grants last month through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), a state-funded program overseen by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The 12 programs will get $8.3 million to provide “last mile” broadband covered to underserved regions in the commonwealth, affecting more than 36,000 residents and businesses.
“Broadband is a necessity for communities to attract business, for students to use educational resources, and for Virginians to receive healthcare through telemedicine,” Northam said in a press release. “My administration is committed to expanding broadband access to every part of Virginia, so that all of our citizens have access to the opportunities that connectivity make possible.”
The latest grants follow more than $19 million in grants allocated last year, all designed to give residents and businesses access to reliable, high-speed internet connectivity.
That connectivity is important to health systems, hospitals, medical practices, clinics and others seeking to improve access to care through telehealth and mHealth programs. Those programs won’t work unless the connections between providers and patients (and between providers and providers) are reliable enough to share and protect health data.
While governmental agencies like the Federal Communications Commission are taking steps to boost broadband access across the country, several states – like Virginia – are taking their own steps to boost connectivity, particularly in rural and remote regions.
Last August, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced that his state is investing $420 million in Connect Illinois, a broad-based project aimed at boosting broadband infrastructure to spur telehealth, education and economic development throughout the state.
“For so many rural and underserved areas, telehealth means access to comprehensive healthcare, which can be as important as solid and well-maintained roads,” Theresa Eagleson, director of the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said. “For those facing behavioral health challenges, telehealth can be especially vital. As the largest provider of healthcare insurance in Illinois, we look forward to actively advancing the mission of this council so that all our members can be better served.”