CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would expand broadband in West Virginia cleared its first Senate committee Wednesday with an expected stiffer test coming.
The Senate Transportation Committee forwarded the bill that would put the state in charge of a middle mile network.
Retired Judge Dan O’Hanlon, who is currently the director of WVNET and vice chancellor of technology at the HEPC, said WVNET could manage the network, which he said would serve as an interstate of sorts for broadband.
“We would be managing basically the infrastructure and then encouraging companies to provide the last mile particularly in the small towns where we get so many complaints that they don’t have access. Not just access to broadband but affordable broadband,” O’Hanlon said.
The bill would create a 2,600-mile fiber network. The $78 million project would be paid for with bonds.
Frontier Communications lobbyist Kathy Cosco said her company has invested millions and continues to expand its service. She says state-run networks haven’t been greatly successful in other states.
“The construction of a state-owned middle-mile network will be duplicative of the existing network infrastructure, come at a significant risk to the taxpayers, so that if an eventual transition back to the private sector occur unnecessarily putting at risk the state’s bond rating,” she said.
CityNet President Jim Martin told the committee without an adequate middle-mile network broadband would not be able to be provided to rural areas. He said current middle-mile networks in the state go to more populated areas.
The state’s Chief Technology Officer Gale Given said she’s needs more facts before deciding if a state-operated middle-mile system would be a good idea.
“Perhaps this network is necessary but perhaps only half of this network is necessary,” she said.
The bill heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.