State Government & Citizen Engagement

Internet Access

Virginia has earned high marks nationally for its digitally advanced government. The increasing importance of the Internet as a vehicle for information and tasks of all sorts makes it more important than ever that all citizens have access.

Why is This Important?

Providing all Virginians with free and equal access to government information and information products, regardless of format, helps increase government accountability and responsiveness and facilitate citizen education. Providing free and easily accessible government services to citizens online simplifies those services and streamlines operations, often creating cost and time savings for government and citizens.

The Internet facilitates an ever-growing range of activities and applications, such as educating children; accessing information from across the globe; connecting with people, governments and organizations; obtaining information about health care; conducting price comparisons; bidding on contracts; completing routine transactions; and widening entertainment choices. As the volume and complexity of the Internet's content has grown, so has the need for high-speed access technologies. In light of this trend, it will become increasingly important for Virginians to have affordable access to broadband service.

How is Virginia Doing?

The non-profit Center for Digital Government independently assesses the effective use of technology by government to assist citizens. Their biennial studies are comprehensive surveys that examine best practices, policies and progress made by state and local governments in their use of digital technologies to better serve their citizens and streamline operations.

In 2006, the center's experts ranked the top 10 states as technology leaders in this area of governance via their Digital States Survey. Virginia ranked number two among the top 10 states.

The 10 most digitally-advanced state governments in the nation have been identified as follows:

Rank   State
1 Michigan
2 Virginia
3 Ohio
4 Utah
5 Arizona
6 Arkansas
7 South Dakota
8 Kentucky
9 Wisconsin
10 Tennessee
Source: Center for Digital Government State Rankings, 2006

In addition, the center makes similar awards to counties within categories based on population size. Fairfax, Prince William and Roanoke Counties were ranked first in their respective population categories. Albemarle was ranked eighth in their category.

Internet Use by Percent of State Population, Age 3 and Older, 2003. See text for explanation.

The proportion of Internet users in the US population grew in every state, including Virginia, between 2001 and 2003. Virginia's use rate of 63.6 percent of the population, age 3 and older, is above the national average of 54.7 percent. Virginia's use rate significantly exceeds that of Tennessee (55.8 percent) and North Carolina (55.6 percent). Maryland's use (65 percent) is slightly higher than that of Virginia. Alaska's (71.5 percent) use is well above the national average.

Though Internet service is expanding rapidly across Virginia, access to the Internet is not yet uniform. The demands that Internet access have placed upon the public network are great. Technological advances promise big increases in access speeds, enabling public networks to play a major role in delivering new and improved telecommunications services and applications to Virginia consumers.

What Influences Internet Access?

The most recent data indicate that Americans' use of information technologies has grown in all locations -- home, workplace, school and community settings. As of September 2001, 60.2 million U.S. homes (or 56.5 percent) had a personal computer. Seven of every eight households with computers (88.1 percent) also had access to the Internet. As a result, more than half of U.S. households (53.9 million homes, or 50.5 percent) had Internet connections.

Broadband Internet access is the emerging technology for connectivity. According to the 2003 Current Population Survey Supplement, broadband connections at home are less prevalent in rural America (24.7 percent) than in urban areas (40.4 percent), particularly in central cities (40.9 percent). In rural areas, subscribership for both cable modems (14.3 percent) and DSL (9.2 percent) is lower than national averages (20.6 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively). While broadband usage has grown significantly in all areas, the rural-urban differential continues. However, wireless technologies such as satellite and MMDS are promising technologies for increasing broadband use in rural areas. (MMDS stands for Multipoint Microwave Distribution System, also known as Multi-channel Multi-point Distribution System and wireless cable.) They are better suited at present than cable or DSL for providing high speed Internet access in areas where population density is low. Even at this early stage of wireless deployment, rural households are slightly more likely than urban households to have satellite or MMDS.

What is the State's Role?

The Internet's penetration throughout society and the economy is increasing. The Commonwealth of Virginia has developed an integrated vision to address the issues, including broadband use in the state. The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) provides a specific Commonwealth strategic vision and plan for information technology for 2007-2011, which is followed by all state agencies.

Data Definitions and Sources

Definitions

  • Broadband: A type of data transmission in which a single medium can carry several channels at once.
  • Cable Modem: A modem designed to operate over cable TV lines. Because the coaxial cable used by cable TV provides much greater bandwidth than telephone lines, a cable modem can be used to achieve extremely fast access to the World Wide Web.
  • DSL: Digital subscriber lines. DSL technologies use sophisticated modulation schemes to pack data onto copper wires.

Sources

Center for Digital Government, www.centerdigitalgov.com

U.S. Department of Commerce. Computer and Internet use supplement to the current population survey, available online at www.bls.census.gov/cps/computer/computer.htm

A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age, September 2004, U.S. Department of Commerce

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Major State Programs

COVA Strategic Plan for Information Technology for 2007-2011
www.vita.virginia.gov/docs/
pubs/covStrategicPlan/index.cfm

Information about Virginia's efforts to expand broadband use:
www.cit.org/programs/
broadband.html