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Facebook will open its fiber networks to expand broadband access in rural Virginia

Facebook will open its fiber networks to expand broadband access in rural Virginia


The partnership plans to connect 6,000 households this year

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook announced a new project on Thursday that will bring broadband service to thousands of households in Virginia this fall, in partnership with a local ISP and utility company.

The project began with fiber networks Facebook was already building to connect its data centers in Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. With that fiber already laid, Facebook partnered with Appalachian Power and GigaBeam Networks to extend the networks to roughly 6,000 households in Grayson County, VA. The homes are projected to have high-speed broadband access by the end of this fall.

“These are really complicated problems that we’re trying to solve”

“These are really complicated problems that we’re trying to solve. If they weren’t complicated, then we still wouldn’t have 19 million people that were unserved or underserved,” Michele Kohler, Facebook’s network investments team manager, told The Verge in an interview Wednesday. “We’re trying to figure out how can we play in the equation, with these complex partnerships, to figure out how we can help people get connected faster.”

Kohler also said that Facebook is providing “engineering and technical resources” to the partnering companies. The proposed network would leverage a new law approved by the Virginia legislature last year that allows electric and communications companies to string fiber along existing poles and conduits. Still, the future of these networks is unclear as utility companies like Rappahannock Electric Cooperative have been sued by property owners for infringing on their property rights when they’ve sought to invoke the new provisions.

Facebook’s announcement comes just a few months after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) said that the state would be investing $700 million from the American Rescue Plan to reach universal connectivity in the state by 2024. President Joe Biden signed the coronavirus relief package last March, providing Virginia with more than $4 billion in relief — the pool of money being used to support universal connectivity.

“I’m a big believer that with this level of high speed and connectivity, people won’t be forced to move away to cities to find good quality jobs,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a statement regarding Facebook’s plans Thursday.