Broadband Connectivity In W.Va. Will Require Full Cooperation
The FCC ranks West Virginia 47th among the 50 states in broadband connectivity. Now, long-stalled efforts are underway to change that ranking.
This week the Senate passed Senate Bill 494, a Democrat-sponsored bill creating the Broadband Carrier Neutral and Open Access Infrastructure Development Fund, for various uses by the WV Office of Broadband. The lead sponsor and longtime broadband advocate is Robert Plymale, D-Wayne.
“A full fifth of our state remains unconnected,” Plymale said. “And with only 39 percent of West Virginians having access to affordable broadband, defined as a plan under $60, the on-ramp to those opportunities is often simply out of reach for many household budgets.”
Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael will administer the fund, and the more than $1 billion in federal monies procured for broadband expansion. Carmichael said work is already underway in stringing fiber optic cable and bringing affordable broadband to the 300,000 remote West Virginia households in need. Carmichael said the plan creates a public-private partnership with the state working with commercial broadband carriers.
“The programs that we put in place are essentially a reverse bid, so that the internet service providers can bid on providing services to these customers, and whoever comes in at the lowest rate gets the award,” Carmichael said. “And we also make sure that they have validated financials, validated customer service metrics, all those good components.”
Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell is the lead sponsor on House Bill 4001. The bill ensures service reliability and provides long term oversight of overall connectivity.
“We need to make sure that as we partner with the private sector, that they understand that we mean business,” Linville said. “Because if they don't, and if the failed promises of the past continue like we've seen previously with Frontier and Suddenlink, then ultimately, the people won't be served.”
The federal government has a five year funding deadline to get broadband connectivity to all West Virginians. All involved say with cooperation, the job can be done quicker.