CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A communications infrastructure company announced plans to build a fiber backbone across West Virginia, likely increasing internet access in some of the state’s rural communities.
The announcement by Zayo Group was made at the state Capitol along with Gov. Jim Justice, Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who is also an employee of Citynet, an internet provider.
“High speed connectivity. Those are the words that are the key to the keys. The kids have to be connected,” Governor Justice said.
Zayo expects to start the fiber-optic route early next year, taking 24 to 36 months to complete.
No one specified the amount of the investment. Justice characterized it as tens of millions of dollars, “a monstrous investment.”
The project extends from Columbus, Ohio, to Ashburn, Virginia, both of which Zayo chief technology officer Jack Waters described as data hubs that will be strategic for the company.
“The way we used to do it is we used to pick where all the people lived — the big, big markets and connect them up,” Waters said.
“Well, it turns out that these two endpoints are actually places where the new economy is, where the webscale companies have built data centers and other data operations.”
The route would go about 200 miles across northern counties of West Virginia. “The exact route we’re still working on,” Waters said.
Waters, a West Virginia University graduate, described the project as significant.
“This is our first investment in West Virginia. We’re excited for the potential for the state. Fiber networks play a central role in development. And I really mean that. We should view fiber networks the same way we view roads, electricity and water.
“Fiber helps connect the underserved and bridge the divide. We expect this network will ultimately support broadband internet providers and their expanding services to rural areas across the state.”
Capito said the project presents an opportunity for “parts of the state that are difficult to serve and have the least deployment of broadband in the state.”
The officials who spoke described the use of local crews for construction. They also said that in exchange for access to right of ways, Zayo would provide high-quality fiber to the state.
For current West Virginia internet providers, the backbone that Zayo plans to build presents a service option. Representatives of other internet companies were present at the announcement at the Capitol.
“It’s a pretty rural part of the state,” Waters said. “There are other internet service providers and other telecommunications providers that serve the individuals in the state, and they are the people we serve. They typically will be our customers.”
Carmichael said the project should be an economic catalyst.
“We’re not talking about a single line across the state of West Virginia,” he said. “This is a massive, massive data transport scenario. It’s big pipe, and it does a lot to move the needle in West Virginia.
“There are all kinds of private sector investments that can now accumulate to this big broadband pipe.”
Justice said it’s hard to come up with words to appropriately describe the announcement.
“I don’t know how many ways you can say big and amazing and appreciative,” the governor said.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) October 25, 2018