CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House of Delegates leadership is touting a bill meant to expand broadband internet access in West Virginia.

Roger Hanshaw

“This one focuses more than we ever have before on wireless technology, said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who has been a main backer of broadband bills over the past several years.

“So we know that West Virginia has one of the highest costs per mile in the country for actual deployment of fiber because we’re a sparsely-populated state, our population density is low — and because of that actual hard-wired line fiber can be cost-prohibitive in lots of places in our state.

“Wireless technology has some promise in places where fiber does not.”

Hanshaw has often spoken about providing better tools for small business owners and entrepreneurs to succeed.

“We need to be able to have small businesses correctly and quickly access customers beyond the borders of our small communities,” he said.

“We’re a state of 1.8 million people. We know that if we’re going to be in retail or custom manufacturing that we have to be able to access customers beyond just simply our friends and neighbors and our small communities.

“We have to be able to make and sell products to New York to Texas to California to London to Paris. We can’t do that if our entrepreneurs can’t get connected.”

The House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure approved House Bill 2005, the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019, on a unanimous voice vote. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s the third in a series of bills the Legislature has considered in the last three years to promote broadband development and expansion in the state.

Among its provisions, the bill:

  • includes “Make-Ready Pole Access” provisions to require electric utilities to study whether it would be feasible to provide broadband service technologies on their existing distribution and transmission infrastructure. This activity would be overseen by the state Public Service Commission.
  • establishes the “West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act,” which will allow broadband providers to use existing rights-of-way and utility poles to place next generation wireless and broadband technologies. This will make it easier for them to use existing infrastructure to deploy technologies, dramatically reducing capital costs.
  • creates the “Wireless Technology Business Property Valuation Act,” which creates a special method of evaluating the valuation of wireless technology for tax purposes to reduce costs and encourage investment. This would give developers a greater incentive to construct wireless technologies in the state.
Daniel Linville

“Our goal is to expand access to the internet to all of our fellow West Virginians,” said Delegate Danielle Linville, R-Cabell, the lead sponsor of the bill.

“For many of us the internet is a tool for the mind. It’s a tool to connect us to the entire rest of the world. What we’re trying to do is open that up to West Virginians.”

Beyond that, said Linville, the goal is to be at the forefront of 5G technology. Preparing the bill, he said, meant involving several layers of government, including the federal government and municipalities, plus consumers.

“What you’ll see with that is 5G is capable of much faster speeds,” he said. “It’s capable of actually running your home-based internet.”

The wireless technologies aspect of the bill could give communities greater flexibility, Linville said.

“When you think about cell phone technologies, normally what you see is the large antennas,” he said. “That’s not what this is so much about. This is about smaller antennas you could have on light poles, for instance, downtown in your cities.

“So having those extra antennas spaced through your cities, towns and along your roads, it allows you to do a lot more connecting, it allows you to stream better things, it allows what is called the internet of things, where there is so much information being transferred between two points.”