Government and Citizens

Internet Access

State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia

Internet Access and Online Services

For most citizens, the Internet has become the de facto source for information and services -- which makes it more important than ever that government put its business online and help ensure equal access for all citizens.

Why is This Important?

Having government information and services online makes it easier for Virginians to interact directly with state agencies and other institutions and helps government increase its transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Government can also become more efficient by eliminating redundant tasks and reducing paperwork and storage needs.

However, it is important to reach every citizen and to eliminate potential barriers to Internet access. As a result, both Federal and state laws require government information and services on the Web to be equally accessible to all persons, regardless of disability.

Other issues, such as reliable access to high-speed broadband, are increasingly important as Web content becomes more complex and more pervasive. Increasingly, vital information, processes, and connections are happening -- often exclusively -- online, meaning that citizens and businesses alike need these digital tools to reach their fullest potential. In fact, broadband networks are now viewed in economic development circles as “critical infrastructure," affecting the potential for economic growth in a locality or region and its ability to attract the most highly skilled workers or dynamic firms.

How is Virginia Doing?

Digital Government

Virginia earns good marks nationally for its digital government, though its status as a digital pioneer has faded as other states have caught up. Through its biennial Digital States Survey, the non-profit Center for Digital Government independently assesses how well state governments use technology. The study compiles its rankings based on the availability of government services online, as well as citizen usage.

In 2016, the Center ranked Virginia among the top 5 states in the use of digital technologies; this is an improvement over 2014's top 8 ranking. Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia all received the highest scores with a grade of “A.” According to the Center's criteria, Grade A states all showed strong progress, using modernization to realize strategic priorities and operational efficiencies; A-level states also employ performance measures and metrics and make efforts to collaborate in meaningful ways.

Tennessee maintained a grade of B+ in 2016's survey; Maryland maintained its B rating, and North Carolina rose to a B+ ranking from a C grade in 2014.

National Rankings for Effective Digital Government Services

Rank State
A Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Virginia
B+ Tennessee, North Carolina (with 8 other states)
B Maryland (with 13 other states)
Source: Center for Digital Government State Rankings, 2016.

The Center makes similar awards to cities and counties based on population size, and Virginia continues to acquit itself well. Recent results are below:

Source: Center for Digital Government City and County Rankings, various years.
Ranking Virginia Counties, 2016 Digital Counties Survey
500,000 + 250,000-499,999 150,000-249,999 Less than 150,000
Fairfax County: 2nd

Chesterfield County: 2nd
Loudoun County: 4th

Arlington County: 1st

Albemarle County: 2nd
Roanoke County: 3rd
Montgomery County: 4th
Goochland County: 7th
Franklin County: 9th

Ranking Virginia Cities, 2015 Digital Cities Survey
250,000 + 125,000-249,999 75,000-124,999 30,000-74,999
Virginia Beach: 5th Alexandria: 1st
Hampton: 7th

Roanoke: 2nd
Lynchburg: 6th

Manassas, Williamsburg: 7th

Internet Use

Average Internet Use, by State. See text for explanation.In 2012 (latest data available), Virginia ranked 31st in the percentage of people -- 75.4% -- who use the Internet from any location (work, home, or elsewhere). This level is lower than Maryland (81.0%) but higher than North Carolina (73.1%) and Tennessee (69.1%). The U.S. average is 74.9 percent, while New Hampshire leads the nation at 83.5 percent.

Broadband Access

Households with Internet Broadband Subscriptions, by State. See text for explanation.Most U.S. households access the Internet through a broadband subscription (be it via cable, fiber optic, DSL, or satellite). In Virginia, 78.2 percent of households did so in 2015, compared to a national average of 75.8 percent, ranking the Commonwealth 16th nationally. Maryland has a higher percentage of connected households (80.9%), while both North Carolina (73.6%) and Tennessee (69.6%) are lower than Virginia. The top-ranked state for households with broadband subscriptions is again New Hampshire at 83.9 percent.

The United States continues to lag behind many developed countries in the cost, speed, and choice of providers available for Internet and broadband services. The U.S. ranked 3rd (behind China and India) for the total number of Internet users in 2016, but ranked just 20th in population penetration, behind countries as diverse as Bermuda, Japan, Estonia, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway. The U.S. also falls well behind many of these same nations for both average download speeds and monthly cost per mbps (megabytes per second).

Broadband Access by State. See text for explanation. It should be noted, however, that accurately gauging broadband and speeds can sometimes be tricky. Provider networks are usually very large and complex. Usage patterns vary greatly -- sometimes predictably, sometimes not.

A Question of Access. According to the national broadband map created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Virginia ranks 40th in the percentage of residents in proximity to access points with broadband speeds of 3 mbps or greater, down from 37th in 2013. Although it has actually improved access to 99.5 percent, Virginia ranks lower than all its peer states (Maryland at 100.0%, North Carolina at 99.6%, and Tennessee at 99.7%) -- but higher than the national average of 99.3 percent.

The Commonwealth has initiatives in place to expand access to affordable high-speed / broadband services -- via fiber optic (FTTx), cable, DSL, satellite, or mobile. For example, the Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance (OTPBA) helps underserved communities in the Commonwealth obtain broadband infrastructure; it also publishes several statistical analyses, including a broadband access map of Virginia, detailing where such service is available and by what method. According to the OTPBA, as of early 2014 more than one-quarter of residents lacked broadband access in over 30 percent of Virginia's cities and counties.

Broadband Access by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.Regional disparities. Some stubborn regional differences in broadband access still exist within Virginia, though the situation has improved markedly since 2011. A full 100 percent of the Northern and Hampton Roads regions have reliable access to broadband. These two highly urbanized regions have a wide variety of access methods, including wide penetration of those providing the fastest speeds, especially fiber optic and cable.

Virginia's rural areas all have satellite access and have made great strides in acquiring wireless, 4G wireless, DSL, cable, and even some fiber optic capabilities. Still, quite a few rural pockets remain where even wireless telephone isn't available, much less broadband technologies like 4G wireless, DSL, or cable.

What Influences Internet Access and Online Services?

Gaps also persist in Internet usage among various demographic groups. This digital divide is largely driven by differences in age, education, and household income. According to a 2012 PEW Internet & American Life study, being 65 or older, lacking a high school education, and having an a nu al household income below $20,000 are the strongest negative predictors of Internet use. And although usage rates for blacks and Hispanics remain lower than for whites, the gaps between them have narrowed markedly since 2000: Current levels from a 2014 PEW study show 87% usage for whites, with black non-Hispanics at 81% and Hispanics slightly better at 83%. Usage also varies by disability status.

The explosion in smartphone adoption has leveled off many traditional differences in Internet access, and therefore use. Groups that had typically been on the other side of the digital divide have gained access via their mobile phones, including those with no college experience or with low household incomes; many of these cite mobile phones as their sole source for Internet access.

What is the State's Role?

Virginia has an integrated vision for information technology use in the state that includes Internet strategies and requirements, which is followed by all state executive branch agencies and managed by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA).

State and regional economic developers recognize the important competitive advantages that ready access to broadband confers and work to improve accessibility.

Page last modified March 23, 2017

Internet Use by State

Broadband Acces by State.

Broadband Access by Virginia Region.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

Center for Digital Government: Digital States Survey 2016; Digital Cities Survey 2015; Digital Counties Survey 2016

Internet Use by State
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey: Computer and Internet Use

PEW Internet & American Life
Digital Differences
(updated in 2013)
Internet User Demographics (January 2014)

Households with Broadband Subscriptions by State
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (1-year estimates)

Broadband Access
Global ranking and comparisons:

U.S. broadband access:

  • National Broadband Map,
  • (Broadband is defined here as speed greater than or equal to 3 megabytes per second downstream and 768 kbps kilobytes per second, and is based on advertised maximum speeds)

Virginia broadband access:

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Internet Access in Virginia

Performance Trend:  Trend is improving.
State Influence:

National Ranking: Virginia ranks among the top 5 states in the use of IT and digital technology in government services, but only 40th in access to high-speed broadband. The US as a whole ranks just 20th for Internet penetration worldwide.

Virginia by Region: Many localities offer superior digital government services, but there is significant disparity among regions for broadband access.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs and Initiatives

The Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Access works to promote teleworking and, by extension, the availability of affordable broadband telecommunication services across the state. The organization offers help with getting telework and broadband initiatives started at the community level.

Virginia Information Technology Accessibility and Web Standards. All state entities, including agencies and institutions of higher education, must adhere to the Virginia Information Technology Accessibility Standard.  All executive branch Web sites are also subject to the Commonwealth Web Site Standard, which sets general usability requirements and guidelines for best practices.