RICHMOND—A new statewide initiative to identify internet coverage gaps stands to improve connectivity for farmers and other rural residents. In May, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed HB 912 to clarify and improve the process for installing communications infrastructure statewide. In conjunction with that, he announced a new initiative called RUOnlineVA, which assists Virginians in reporting their access to broadband internet connections. “It’s crucial that farmers have access to broadband to allow them to conduct their daily business activities,” explained Andrew Smith, senior assistant director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers use the internet for their marketing and communications needs and increasingly are using it to submit state and federal reports.” Not only do farmers need access to broadband internet connections, “all rural Virginians’ access to faster internet service would open the door to more educational resources,” Smith said. Because of the internet’s importance to farmers and rural Virginians, Farm Bureau consistently has supported legislation expanding broadband internet access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 17 percent of Americans lack access to advanced broadband service, and the majority of them live in rural areas. This year’s state budget includes $2.5 million for the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, which provides funding for infrastructure expansion in unserved areas of the commonwealth. RUOnlineVA gives Virginia residents and businesses an opportunity to notify the state government about whether they have access to broadband internet connections. “Broadband has become as essential as any utility for maintaining a high quality of life in our communities and meeting our economic and workforce development goals,” McAuliffe said. “Yet too many Virginia communities lack access to reliable, fast and affordable internet connections. RUOnlineVA is an important way for the commonwealth to engage citizens and the private sector in fully understanding the problem and working to find solutions.” RUOnlineVA will run through early August. Residents are asked to log on at RUOnline.virginia.gov and answer a few questions about where they live and what level of internet connectivity they have. Responses will be aggregated and shared with policymakers and the public to stimulate policy and funding discussions. “We encourage all Virginians to participate in RUOnlineVA to help close the gap in broadband access,” Smith said. Media: Contact Smith at 804-290-1021.