Partnering for Broadband Expansion: Closing the Rural Digital Divide

By Broderick Johnson
Jun 13, 2024 9:30 AM ET

High-speed broadband is on a growth trajectory like few infrastructure projects in America. Comcast is proud to be at the forefront of this era of expansion which is ushering in digital and economic opportunity.

Communities from coast to coast await the first disbursements from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program anticipated later this year. However, we’re already seeing the results of investments from public-private partnerships made a few years ago thanks to the American Rescue Plan.

One of these results is the newly completed rural broadband expansion in Stafford County, Virginia.

We were honored to be joined by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and officials at the state and local level in Virginia. Together, we toured a recently finished project in unincorporated Stafford County. The expansion passed nearly 700 additional homes with our ultrafast Xfinity network, connecting even more homes than originally anticipated.

Watching Comcast’s highly-trained and dedicated technical employees in the field, Secretary Yellen observed the process that installs, manages, and repairs fiber connections. She even participated in a live demonstration of a fiber splicer - a crucial tool our technicians use every day to maintain our world-class, fiber-rich network. Fiber splicers enable us to connect strands of fiber optic cable together, which underpins the reliable and lightning-fast service we provide nationwide.

The Stafford County project, originally announced in early 2022, is a partnership between Comcast and Stafford County. It was made possible thanks to support from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) and administered by its Office of Broadband.

Thanks to the exemplary partnership with the Stafford County team, construction remained on-time and on-budget. County leaders convened public meetings to answer residents’ questions and provided a forum to solve challenges together, including with access to private easements, pole attachments, and more.

These partnerships don’t happen overnight. Our teams at Comcast have worked closely with state, regional, and local partners for years to build relationships that today are reaping benefits for communities not just in Virginia, but also in Oregon, Texas, and other states.

Comcast has projects underway across the country, and there are even more in the works – though each project presents a number of considerations before and during the build.

Alongside federal funds, states, cities, and counties are stepping up as well. And the private sector, including Comcast, as we see right here, is seizing the opportunity to expand services. That’s why I see our efforts to close the digital divide as a prime example of how all levels of government, along with private companies and non-profits, can effectively work together.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

Perhaps the most impactful encounters the Secretary and I had were with Stafford County residents who, as a result of this project, now subscribe to high-speed broadband for the first time.

“My wife is a high school teacher of 42 years. During the COVID pandemic, because we didn't have high-speed Internet, she had to go to the school to remotely teach her students,” said Richard, a Navy veteran and resident of Stafford County. “The Comcast service we now have is very fast and extremely reliable."

Stories like this are why Comcast is committed to going “Beyond the Build.” As my colleague David Don said last year, “Comcast brings to local communities its deep-rooted commitment to high-quality technology, widespread adoption, and services that are stable, secure, and innovative.”

Nationally, Comcast has committed $1 billion through Project UP to deliver the connectivity, the tools, and the digital skills people need to succeed today. This includes $39 million invested in more than 127 nonprofits across Virginia that are helping to connect their communities and help people take full advantage of all that the Internet has to offer.

Our mission, our people, and our history of innovation are at the heart of Comcast’s broadband expansion strategy. I’m pleased to say we are on track to pass more than one million additional homes and businesses with our network this year – and we’re just getting started.

Broderick D. Johnson is Executive Vice President, Public Policy and Executive Vice President, Digital Equity for Comcast Corporation.