Photo of Lauren Mathena courtesy Invest Southern Virginia
November 19, 2020 – While the business case for rural broadband has been debated, panelists at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s monthly webinar on Wednesday concluded that rural broadband enhances local economies.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband was able to establish an open access network that has supported the flourishing of many other industries, explained Lauren Mathena, director of economic development for Mid-Atlantic Broadband.
Because of this network, Microsoft was able to build a data center in southern Virginia that has invested substantially in the community, including the establishment of a data center academy that the software company has used as a model for countless others across the world.
Hardide, a British top content provider, was also able to connect their headquarters in the UK to their Virginia plant remotely through Mid-Atlantic’s network.
Screenshot from the webinar
The network has supported business parks and health companies, as well as encouraged partnerships with local electric coops and Commonwealth Connect, Virginia’s broadband coalition.
Indraneel Kumar, principal regional planner at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, found that rural broadband firms created and supported more than 77,000 jobs across different industries in 2017. In a study called “Job Creation from Rural Broadband Companies,” he and his colleagues concluded that rural broadband companies were significant economic drivers in their communities. For every job created in broadband led to almost two additional jobs were created in the economy.
All important aspects of community life are supported by broadband
Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy for rural broadband association NTCA, said that all the important aspects of a community—jobs, education, and access to good healthcare— could all be supported by broadband.
Jobs that had a telework component during the pandemic lost just half a percent of employees, versus 2.7 percent for non-telework jobs.
A school in Kansas was able to help students take a virtual fieldtrip to Yellowstone National Park using the school’s gigabit connection provided by Golden Belt Telephone association.
An NTCA’s paper on “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth,” published as part of the association’s smart rural community program, found rural telehealth could save an average of $30,000 per year. That’s from lost wages for travel expenses that would otherwise have been incurred when rural residents had to travel to the facilities.
He also said that rural telehealth has increased the local laboratory and pharmacy revenues, ranging from $12,000 to $45,000 annually.
He concluded with the example of a medical center in South Carolina that through telepsychiatry has been able to reduce the average stay of patients from 36 hours to 4 hours. “Imagine the cost savings,” he said.
As we celebrate the third year of Microsoft’s TechSpark program, we’re focused on bringing digital skilling opportunities to our local communities—and for us in Southern Virginia—we’re thrilled about the doors that are opening for our residents and organizations.
At a time when a record number of Americans are working from home across the U.S., most rural residents lack vital digital skills that can unlock opportunities in the new digital economy. In such an important time in history, we chose to partner with gener8tor and the SOVA Innovation Hub to bring an upskilling opportunity to the residents of Southern Virginia that will position them to compete for advanced jobs regionally, as well as nationally. Economic development has always been tougher for rural communities, and the current pandemic has made things even more challenging. This new skilling opportunity will allow our lifelong residents to remain in the region while securing gainful employment.
TechSpark Southern Virginia chose to partner with gener8tor and the SOVA Innovation Hub to offer a free, virtual, self-paced program aimed at enhancing participants’ skills in customer service and/or sales. We received more than 150 applications from across Virginia during the short application window, and ultimately selected 35 participants from the Southern Virginia TechSpark region who began the five-week program on October 19th.
Our partner at the SOVA Innovation Hub, Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement for Mid-Atlantic Broadband, had the following to say about our work together on the initiative:
“We are excited to be working with gener8tor and Microsoft to bring this opportunity to the citizens of Southern Virginia. The goal of the SOVA Innovation Hub is to inspire people to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship, and the skills taught in this program are critical to success in these fields. COVID-19 has made us even more aware of the importance of technology for the future of work. The gener8tor Upskilling program is providing people in Southern Virginia with enhanced digital skills to advance their careers and improve their lives.”
Skilling for the new digital economy will be invaluable for our rural communities, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is how one of the participants, Emily J., summed up her experiences to date:
“Having the guidance and support this program has provided is invaluable. Working one on one with a career coach and working through LinkedIn Learning modules has helped me see and pursue more career options for growth I wouldn’t have otherwise. I believe the opportunities this program provides will help change the employment landscape of Southern Virginia that much faster.”
As we head into the winter holidays, finding and keeping a job with a living wage will be increasingly important to so many families. If you’re in the Southern Virginia area and would like to get involved and start your upskilling journey, visit our website gener8tor upskilling and be sure to take a look at Microsoft’s global skilling initiative as a first step. You’ll be glad you did!
TechSpark Spotlight: Through the TechSpark program, Microsoft partners with communities to understand their unique regional challenges and to explore solutions, programs, and partnerships that will be most effective locally. This first-hand account is part of the Microsoft TechSpark Spotlight series that shines a light on each community we serve.
MBC HOSTS SENATOR MARK WARNER TO DISCUSS BROADBAND EXPANSION
On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC) hosted U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to discuss MBC’s 1,900-mile fiber optic network, plans for expansion, and other economic development programs MBC is involved with in the Southern Virginia region. “If there is one thing we’ve all learned from COVID, it is that broadband connectivity is not a ‘nice to have’, it is an absolute necessity,” said Senator Warner.
Senator Mark Warner visits South Boston. (Photo Credit: WSET)
When MBC was formed in 2004, Warner (then Governor of Virginia) helped MBC negotiate a unique public-private partnership resource sharing agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) that allowed MBC use of state-owned rights of way in exchange for installing fiber along those routes. A year later, in 2005, Warner helped kick off construction in Appomattox County and signed a map showing the first proposed routes of the MBC network.
Tad Deriso, President and CEO of MBC, described how, after the initial years of grant funding for capital investments from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, MBC has operated in a financially sustainable manner. One of MBC’s key growth strategies is to expand network reach through mutually beneficial partnerships with local, regional, and national Internet Service Providers, content providers, and other fiber optic network operators.
Deriso also discussed how the MBC network is enabling last-mile connections to the home through partnering on projects like Microsoft Electric Cooperative’s EMPOWER network and Central Virginia Services’ Firefly Broadband. Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson, P.E., who was also in attendance at the meeting, shared that MBC’s network has been vital component of last-mile expansion in Halifax County.
MBC also updated Senator Warner on the SOVA Innovation Hub, a 501(c)3 non-profit created in early 2020 with investments from MBC and Microsoft TechSpark. Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement for MBC explained that Southern Virginia is one of seven regions in North America selected to participate in TechSpark, a Microsoft civic program that fosters job creation and economic opportunity.
Mathena described how the SOVA Innovation Hub will spark economic transformation in Southern Virginia through its programs, which focus on digital skills and entrepreneurship, and its facility, which is the first new construction in downtown South Boston in over 40 years. Set to open in January 2021, the 15,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility will be the new home of MBC corporate offices and will be the headquarters of TechSpark Southern Virginia. The first floor includes a coworking space, training classroom, and a first-of-its-kind Microsoft Experience Center. The Microsoft Experience Center will be a place to showcase cutting–edge digital applications related to local industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare. Programs will focus on digital skills.
Mathena gave an overview of the variety of programming initiatives in development for the SOVA Innovation Hub, including a partnership with CodeVA, a non-profit with a mission to bring equitable computer science education to Virginia students. Through the SOVA Innovation Hub, CodeVA will create and develop educational programming for the newly formed Computer Science Teachers Association Southern Virginia (CSTA SOVA) Chapter.
Since its founding, MBC has been a proponent of the economic advancement of Southern Virginia. Along with broadband expansion, MBC’s mission is to reinvest in the communities it serves.
When Senator Warner signed the map in 2005, MBC was just starting its journey. This visit, Senator Warner signed a map with “Congrats you’ve come a long way!” – a map that shows the now nearly 2,000 miles of MBC open-access middle mile fiber network that is making critical connections throughout Southern Virginia.