WARDENSVILLE, W.Va. — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said he got a firsthand look at what he calls the “digital divide” when he visited West Virginia Monday.
Ajit Pai was the guest of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. They visited Wardensville in Hardy County where internet connectivity has allowed for new businesses in spring up. They then traveled to neighboring Hampshire County where getting high-speed internet is more of a challenge.
“In just two counties we’re seeing a phenomenon that I’ve called ‘the digital divide.’ There is a big gap between the communities that have internet access and those that don’t,” Pai told MetroNews.
Pai and Capito visited the Lost River Trading Post and Wardensville Market and along with Hardy County-based ASC Partners where there are 25 high-tech jobs. Capito credits Hardy Telecommunications and local leaders for opening up Wardensville and other places as an alternative.
“From (Washington) D.C., contractors, telecommuters are over here–they want to flee that hectic life of D.C.,” Capito said. “But without that connectivity they really can’t keep working, keep their businesses going and create new businesses.”
The FCC is promoting federal subsidy programs and regulations to encourage companies to invest in broadband expansion, Pai said.
“If you build broadband in some of these communities, I’m convinced that entrepreneurship, economic group and a sense of optimism will come and that’s what we see here in Wardensville,” he said.
Capito introduced the Gigabit Opportunity Act or GO Act earlier this year. It calls for the streamlining of broadband laws, encourages investment in rural communities and defers taxes to promote that investment.
A new state law in West Virginia, House Bill 3093, Establishing Broadband Enhancement and Expansion Policies, will allow people to form cooperatives for broadband internet services in an effort to have internet access available statewide by 2020.
Capito said she’s starting to sense some momentum on an issue of vital importance to the state’s future.
“I think if we could just all pull in the same direction because we know how important broadband development is to the next generation, to this generation,” Capito said.
Pai also visited the state last year.