Comcast Secures Rural Buildouts Through Different Approaches
Last year's $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package accentuated the national priority of building broadband networks to reach unserved communities. Cable internet service providers (ISPs) understand better than anyone how challenging it can be to connect people who live in these hard-to-reach areas. In fact, cable ISPs invest billions of their own dollars to make that happen every year. But federal programs and state grants dedicated to funding broadband deployment are especially critical to accomplishing the goal of reaching every household in America with robust internet service. A great example of these public-private partnerships can be found in Virginia, where Comcast and Cox have expanded broadband access to unserved areas, connected thousands of households lacking broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic, and used their own capital to help fund buildouts.
To start with Comcast, the ISP's success in its expansion throughout rural Virginia, including across Patrick, Amelia, Buckingham and Charles City Counties, can be attributed to the different approaches it takes depending on the community it's trying to reach.
"We want to serve as many customers as is geographically and economically feasible, and we're always evaluating opportunities to bring our innovative products and services to new and existing customers," stated Kevin Broadhurst, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Comcast's Beltway Region. "However, in some low-density areas where it is not economical for Comcast or any provider to build out, public-private partnerships are crucial to expand broadband into these areas," added Comcast's Nathan Daugherty, Senior Manager of Government and Regulatory Affairs.
Comcast has participated in many of these partnerships, including telecommunications projects with the Virginia Tobacco Commission. Through this partnership, it was able to connect 8,000 homes last year in Bedford County, home to the popular recreation spot Smith Mountain Lake. Then through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), the ISP connected 2,800 households in Charles City, Clarke, Spotsylvania, and Albemarle Counties between 2018 and last May.
With CARES Act funds, Comcast also helped 167 households in Culpeper and Powhatan County gain access to broadband for the first time—a victory for those who might normally be left behind due to the community's small size and the large expense and challenges involved in a new buildout.
Then, Comcast used 100% of its own capital to connect 6,274 households in Patrick, Buckingham, and Amelia Counties and the Town of Brookneal with construction either already completed in these areas or nearing completion.
In a place like Charles City, a rural community about 50 miles outside of Richmond, access to high-speed internet has been transformative. After Comcast built out to nearly 2,300 homes in the county with the help of a VATI grant, residents in Charles City can now telecommute, distance learn, or visit their doctor virtually. Projects like this generally take 18 months to complete due to preparations that need to be made for makeready works or for railroad crossings that affect builds, among other challenges, explained Daugherty.
In towns such as Stuart, Comcast invests its own capital to expand broadband service. Comcast's extension in Stuart reaches over 2,000 households in a community full of eager residents and businesses.
"We are in desperate need of services," said Geri Hazelwood, a government administrator for Patrick County. "Broadband can help our local businesses. It can help the folks who work remote and the students here in the county." Clyde DeLoach, Vice Chair of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, agreed wholeheartedly: "When Comcast comes and services that many people, it will have a fantastic effect on the county." He continued, "The pandemic has shown us what can happen when you are not connected to the digital economy … you need the internet and connected devices. Broadband is it."
Fortunately, Comcast is doing its part in Virginia and nationwide. The ISP continues to invest billions of dollars into its buildouts and into forging successful public-private partnerships to bring unserved Americans the broadband service that will change their lives.
"We want to connect as many people as we can," said Comcast Beltway Region Vice President, Communications, Kristie Fox. "Whether through our own private investment or through public-private partnerships, we are always looking at different opportunities to bring our services to new customers."
Learn more about Comcast's buildouts to rural households across Virginia.
Check back here soon for Cox's story of expansion across the state.