BIG STONE GAP, Va. (WJHL) – The Scott County Telephone Cooperative received a $25 million dollar grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday to expand broadband access to Lee County, Wise County and the city of Norton.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, Bill Franklin, the CEO of Scott County Telephone Cooperative and others spoke at the Big Stone Gap Visitor’s Center about the broadband expansion.

Funding from the USDA’s Rural Development Reconnect Grant Program will help over 17,000 residents, over 1,000 businesses, 37 farms and 49 educational facilities to have access to high-speed internet.

Warner said enough money is now set aside at both the federal and state level to provide more access.

“If we don’t get 98% of all the folks in Southwest Virginia covered by 2025, it’s going to be a failure of execution, not lack of money,” Warner said. “This is finally an initiative that will allow Southwest Virginia and other rural parts of the state to get a fair shake.”

Warner said this broadband expansion will also keep people from moving away from Southwest Virginia.

“In 2023, you shouldn’t have to leave your hometown to get a world-class job,” Warner said. “But if you don’t have affordable high-speed broadband connectivity, that option disappears.”

Warner says this will also help bring jobs to Southwest Virginia and help education.

“We also need to bring more energy jobs back to the community,” Warner said. “We need to make sure we’ve got world-class, educational institutions. UVA Wise, just down the road and a series of other schools, community colleges elsewhere.”

Franklin said the Scott County Telephone Cooperative plans on applying for additional funding to get high-speed internet access to other areas of Southwest Virginia.