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Broadband bill would empower rural WV communities, delegate says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Delegate Roger Hanshaw believes he has a bill to ease West Virginia’s broadband internet access problem.

“I live in an area where we sometimes can’t process a credit card sale,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said today on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “That’s unacceptable.”

In the House of Delegates chamber this morning, Hanshaw  presented an explanation of House Bill 3093, which would establish statewide broadband enhancement and expansion policies to encourage growth of high-speed internet access across the state.

The bill would reform and expand the duties of the state Broadband Enhancement Council, and promote practices meant to improve broadband access in the state.

The measure would also outlaw the use of “up to” maximum speed marketing of broadband speeds, instead requiring that providers advertise the minimum speeds for their service.

A public hearing on the bill is to take place Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. in the House Chamber. The bill is expected to be taken up in Friday’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill grew out of legislative interim meetings about broadband and also through efforts by Senator Shelley Moore Capito and her staff, Hanshaw said.

Hanshaw, in a few discussions about the bill today, noted that — in tight budget times — one of its main attributes is that it doesn’t call for additional spending.

“We need revenue-neutral solutions to problems or revenue-positive solutions to problems,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay. “This is such a bill.”

In an interview after this morning’s presentation, Hanshaw said the state’s budget crunch gave this broadband bill a better shot than some of the alternatives.

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Hanshaw, who lives in Wallback, where there is no high-speed Internet, said one of his favorite aspects of the bill would give rural communities greater ability to establish non-profit cooperative associations to promote broadband development.

“From my perspective, it’s the allowance of rural co-ops,” Hanshaw said. “It’s allowing West Virginia to do what other states are already doing, which is to let people form co-ops to provide this service for themselves.”

If communities are enabled to band together to provide the local infrastructure for broadband then that provides an incentive for commercial providers to provide service to that point, Hanshaw said.

“One of the real issues is the current service providers have is the economy of scale issue. They sometimes rightly say ‘Well, we can’t really justify the economic investment of going into a small community. But if that community itself puts together the infrastructure to provide its own service then all it needs is one line out to the main trunk, which the service providers are happy to provide.

“That lets the service providers actually work with the local community on its own terms and that takes away the hurdle of lack of critical mass. The local critical mass has solved it on its own.”

Consumers may best identify with a component of the bill that would prohibit internet service providers from advertising data rates only as an “up to” speed.

Instead, data rates would have to be presented in terms of minimum data speeds.

“That’s not an unimportant part of this bill,” Hanshaw said. “People across the country are making decisions on where to locate a business sometimes based on where they can get service.”

He added, “People are making six-figure investment decisions on no data. An ‘up-to’ number is a meaningless number.”


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