Increasing Support for Virginia’s Broadband Needs: An Update from the Commonwealth’s Chief Broadband Advisor, Evan Feinman
November 22nd, 2019

It’s easier to start a business today than any time in our history. That isn’t because of new laws, fewer regulations, or a sudden surge of good ideas. It’s because of broadband, or high speed internet. Today, anyone with an internet connection can buy or sell anything to anyone anywhere. Virginia entrepreneurs can advertise globally with the click of a mouse and can compete in markets anywhere in the world. Commerce has rapidly transitioned online and businesses taking advantage of these tools are more profitable because of it.

Small and new businesses, the engine of job creation, depend on high speed internet the most. When margins are close and every dollar counts, the efficiencies that online services bring to a small business could mean the difference between profitability and bankruptcy. Any small business owner with broadband can attest to how different their operation would be if they couldn’t use connected bookkeeping, shipping, or social media to manage and grow their business. Even auction websites are viable marketplaces for at-home entrepreneurs.

What about the folks who don’t have an internet connection? They just don’t have the same opportunities, plain and simple. For an estimated 600,000 Virginians who live without access to broadband, running or starting a business is more difficult. Existing business owners don’t have the revolutionary online tools to optimize their operations and maximize profits. Fledging entrepreneurs face a much more arduous journey to starting a business than those with the world wide web at their fingertips.

But don’t just take my word for it. Earlier this year, the US Chamber of Commerce and Amazon partnered to study the impact expanded broadband would have on rural small businesses and the US economy. The study found that the online economy is performing drastically differently from the brick and mortar economy. Here is what the study found:

“Online sales of both manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries outpaced the overall industry growth. For example, online sales of the manufacturing sector grew more than 28% compared with a 2.3% decline of the total manufacturing sector during the past five years. Online sales in the retail industry, led by clothing stores, food and beverage stores, and home furnishings stores, doubled their revenue in the past five years while the overall retail industry grew by 18.4%.”

Small businesses with broadband have already taken advantage of online tools to boost sales, with nearly 20% of rural small businesses relying on online sales alone. Even for businesses with brick and mortar locations, 29% reduced product/material costs by buying online and 55% reported boosted sales after using online tools. These online tools and digital technologies could be as simple as advertising online to as complex as advanced technologies used for precision agriculture or automated manufacturing.

After establishing a clear correlation between accessing online tools and boosting profits of small businesses, the study extrapolated the economic impact if such tools were universally available with ubiquitous broadband. For Virginia, there was good news and bad news. The bad news: From 2015-2018, Virginia’s unrealized gains due to the lack of access to digital tools by rural small businesses were immense: $2.1 billion in annual sales lost, 9,000 jobs never created, and $436 million in annual wages never collected. That’s an awfully big boat for us all to have missed.

Thankfully these missed opportunities will be a thing of the past. Governor Northam has made bridging this digital divide a top priority of his administration. He has set a goal for universal broadband in Virginia by 2028 and I’m happy to report that we are on track. Since 2017, the Commonwealth has awarded over $25 million in broadband grants, connecting 71,000 previously unserved homes and businesses. $19 million more in grants will be announced in December and we hope to have the broadband budget increased in January when the General Assembly return to Richmond.

Virginia still stands to reap major economic benefits from this project. The Chamber and Amazon estimate $2.24 billion in annual sales, 9,415 jobs, and $452 million in annual wages from a fully-connected Commonwealth. Combining these eye-popping economic gains with the improvements in education, increased agricultural output, added real estate value, healthcare, and public safety, universal broadband can and will transform rural Virginia.

We can make that a reality for Virginia, but the Commonwealth’s broadband team can’t do it alone.  The upcoming legislative session will include adoption of a new biennial budget.  So I end with a request: please contact your state legislators and urge them to support Virginia’s business growth and fully fund the Governor’s broadband program. By doing so, we can provide equal opportunities to every Virginia business and arm our rural business owners with the tools to succeed in the modern economy.


Read the full Chamber of Commerce/Amazon Broadband Study here –


Evan Feinman

Chief Broadband Advisor

Office of Governor Ralph Northam