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.

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Comments

  • Curt

    This is what WV has needed since the early '90s. $78 mil sounds like a real bargain honestly. This is really the only way that the vast amount of rural West Virginians will have possible access to real broadband. No corporate entity is going to build that infrastructure. Oh.. and the HughesNet thing.. not truely a broadband alternative, there is a delay between when you send a data request and then recieve the response. (radio beam from your dish up to the satellite, back to HughesNet, out to the internet, back to HughesNet, up to the satellite, back down to the dish, not nearly as fast as being already connected to the internet directly. Try playing that new XBox game over HughesNet, doesn't work very well, due to the satellite lag.) works fine for things like web browsing/watching videos/listening to music. but you can't do "persistant" connections.

  • Rusty Irvin

    StratusWave Communications, a competitive broadband provider in WV, supports this open access middle mile project. In our opinion, this project will more than pay for itself. It is good for our State, and it will promote real competition that is good for consumers.

    H. "Rusty" Irvin III
    CEO

  • Mudder

    JEEZ, this state is so broke we can hardly afford to pay attention let alone sell bonds to pay for this hair brain idea. If rural people want internet there are a couple of companies than provide internet via satellite. I had Hughes for several years before moving to the big city.

  • Digital Dark

    Neither Verizon nor Frontier has been interested in anything outside towns. In urban areas their return on investment is greatest. Like any other company, their interest is profit, not getting infrastructure to the hills and hollows.

    If there is blame to be laid for creating a state of digital haves and have nots, put it at the foot of state government. Despite numerous studies and lots of dollars over the past 20 years, legislators have come up with nothing that would support Internet access for ALL citizens. The situation remains the same as it was in the 1990s: urban folks have access while rural folks are in two tin cans and a string land.

  • Linda Keeney

    It's easy for folks who have DSL to be critical. But folks like my neighbors and me are that "middle mile." We have DSL coming from both directions but Frontier refuses to serve our small neighborhood. We are not even the most rural area but for whatever reason we do not have high speed access. Sometimes I think it's so Hughes Net (who has partnered with Frontier) can continue to gouge us. If a state system could get service to us, then I say let it happen.

  • jm

    While I do not dispute the need to get internet out to as much of the state as possible, I think that the state getting into it might not even be a good idea. However, the state of finances of the state should dictate not taking this up at this time. Everything continually is being cut, due to lack of financing available, but do you continue to cut services in order to lack of better terms............. do you spend millions to get the net to 10 people.

  • Jim K

    WV needs to do whatever is possible to get the state better speed and coverage.

    There are a lot of people living in rural areas that could get needed training or run their own net based businesses if they could have decent internet.

    I'd rank this issue as important to our future economy, more than some of the bills they are working on to lower wages and limit people to sue when they get injured.

  • Dave

    Something needs to happen in order to break the strangle hold Frontier has on our state.

    I have had so many credits and discounts to my account for service issues that I've basically had free internet for the past year and a half, what I'd rather have is more than the 3mps, or as Frontier likes to say 'up to 6', I can sometimes get and for a reasonable price. I'm in a municipality, not out in the dickie weeds.

    Yet Frontier keeps stating what wonderful things they're bringing to WV.

    Competition from anywhere that challenges them is our only way forward.