Towards a connected commonwealth

The roles of counties in broadband deployment in Virginia




Broadband, Rural Broadband, Digital Divide, Counties, Virginia


This paper explores the role of counties in the deployment of high-speed internet (“broadband”) networks in the United States. Counties play crucial roles in local governance, but have been absent from discussions of broadband policy, planning and deployment by both lawmakers and scholars. Rectifying this, this paper reports the results of a survey of counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Using thematic coding analysis, themes from our survey include (1) mapping and the ongoing issue of identifying un- and under-connected areas; (2) funding and the use of public money; (3) strategic partnerships with electric cooperatives, investor-owned ISPs, and other counties and (4) urban bias. Based on these themes, we argue that countries play three crucial, but heretofore neglected, roles in broadband deployment: funder, partner, and mobilizer. Moreover, we argue that counties are eager for greater responsibility and authority over deployment. This paper concludes with recommendations for how Virginia can amplify the roles and responsibilities of counties in broadband deployment.

Author Biographies

Dr. Christopher Ali, Penn State University

Christopher Ali, PhD is the Pioneers Chair and Professor of Telecommunications in the Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State University. He is the author of the book Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity (MIT Press, 2021). 

Abby Simmerman, University of Virginia

Abby Simmerman is a graduate student in Media, Culture, and Technology at the University of Virginia. She studies the equitability of broadband and media technology.

Nicholas Lansing, University of Virginia

Nicholas Lansing is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. Nicholas is majoring in Foreign Affairs and Latin American Studies.






Research Articles