CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 544,000 West Virginians, or about 30 percent of the state’s population, do not have high-speed internet access, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

In rural areas, that number rises to 48 percent — making West Virginia 48th in the nation for broadband access.

“We’ve got almost a third of our population that is disconnected,” said Rob Hinton, president of Broadband Enhancement Council. “That limits everything from educational possibilities to job training.”

The Broadband Enhancement Council introduced a new initiative to address the issue. GigReady WV was unveiled Tuesday during Broadband Day at the state Capitol. The event was co-hosted by AARP West Virginia and Generation West Virginia.

The initiative focuses on three areas:

  • An agreement that access to high-speed internet is critical to future economic development in West Virginia.
  • Improved broadband infrastructure will be aligned with future visions and forward thinking for the state.
  • New infrastructure investments will include “scalable” needs like fiber and wireless that can handle gigabits or better connectivity.

Hinton said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” federal funding is available for improved broadband access, but not enough communities understand the issue.

“One of the problems is we don’t have enough proposals and projects that are being developed to be submitted for federal funding,” he said.

The top priority of GigReady WV is to connect the under-served areas by engaging communities and providers through private/public partnerships, Hinton said.

Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia, said companies have to be willing to pay for the increased access.

“Providers have to be willing to make some investment,” Roper said on Tuesday’s “Talkline.” “I think some of the solutions are how do we incentivise providers to provide access to places where it may not be as cost effective with smaller populations? We know that if we build it, they will come.”

Wireless technology is needed in those rural areas, Hinton said.

“There’s fixed broadband deployments that can deliver up to 400 megs worth of service. That’s astonishing compared to these areas that are running on less than 4 megs or even dial up or satellite,” he said.

Several lawmakers support broadband improvements including state Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) and Delegate Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay, 33) who spoke at Tuesday’s Broadband Day event.

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