CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the dust settles from the end of the regular legislative session, multiple bills now await Gov. Jim Justice’s signature for approval or veto.
One of those passed bills is House Bill 3093, the Establishing Broadband Enhancement and Expansion Policies. The legislation would allow people to form cooperatives for broadband internet services in an effort to have internet access available statewide by 2020.
“Although broadband access has been extended to many of West Virginia’s cities, towns, and other concentrated population areas, some areas of the state, mostly rural, remain unserved,” the act said.
The Senate passed the legislation 31-1, and the House of Delegates approved in a 93-3 vote.
One of the bill’s supporters is Generation West Virginia, an organization aimed at making the state attractive for millennials.
Natalie Roper, executive director of the organization, said she feels the bill would benefit the state.
“Our communities, businesses and municipalities know that without broadband, we are left behind with access to health care, access to education and access to business opportunities,” she said.
At least 20 broadband users would have to come together and form a business through the Secretary of State’s office. They would have to find financing for the service, whether it is through memberships or grants.
Roper said without access to high-speed internet, young people will look past West Virginia when looking at places to call home.
“We know that millennials are prioritizing flexible work hours and telecommuting,” she said. “With access to high-speed internet in our rural communities, our young people can take advantage of our amazing outdoors while working from home.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates West Virginia had a one percent population decline between April 2010 and July 2016, with the number of people in the state decreasing by less than 22,000 people.
Justice said on March 23 the trend will continue if the Legislature put forward a budget too reliant on budget cuts. On Saturday, the governor said he was close to a budget agreement with Senate President Mitch Carmichael that included tax increases as well as income tax reform.
Yet no one from the House of Delegates had a role in proposal discussions. The Legislature instead passed a budget with $110 million in spending cuts.
Roper said House Bill 3093 seems like the first step to jump start economic development and attract people to the state.
“We’re excited,” she said. “We think this is a really important bill to give communities the tools to put broadband expansion into their own hands.”