BECKLEY, W.Va. — While visiting southern West Virginia during National Entrepreneurship Week, US Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., predicted the completion of broadband service availability in rural areas of the state within a decade.
Manchin took part in a roundtable discussion Thursday at the Beckley offices of the WV Hive, a business incubator founded in 2015 by the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority to provide support services for new and existing businesses within a 12-county region, including Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers, Braxton, Webster, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Mercer, Monroe, Wyoming, and McDowell Counties.
Manchin said access to modern online communication is crucial to the future economic success of the region, which continues to lag behind the rest of the state, in terms of expansion and employment opportunities. He also said Congress is poised to initiate a nationwide effort to make universal broadband connectivity a reality.
“We’ve got $6 billion that’s going to be invested in the real near future, within the next 10 years, all designated for rural broadband connectivity,” said Manchin.
Manchin noted the efforts of members of the state legislature who have called for various initiatives to make high-speed internet accessible for all rural residents, but said the scale of what is needed to accomplish the goal cannot be addressed at the state level, realistically.
“Every state should be doing everything they possibly can. I applaud for whatever they’re doing in the state level but the big money that it’s going to take — If you lived in West Virginia or rural America in the 1930’s, your great grandparents or your grandparents, they probably didn’t have electricity. And so, FDR came along and said, ‘We’re going to have rural electrification. There’s not going to be a place and a person in the United State of America that won’t have access to electricity.’ In the 21st century, we’re in that same crossroads, right now. There’s so many people that still don’t have access to internet. They’re not going to able be to compete. The areas won’t be able to prosper and thrive, and then people are going to leave, and we’re going to have, basically, pockets of disparity.”
Manchin said the involvement of the federal government also will be necessary to insure the cooperation of service providers who may not otherwise being inclined to make the necessary investment to bring about the advent of complete rural internet access.
“A lot of the companies are saying, ‘Oh, we’re covering a certain area,’ and we know it’s not being covered, and we can prove that. So, we’re challenging the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) maps. We’re going to show them that we have so many underserved areas that they’re trying to tell me that have been served, and they’re not. I want to make sure every place in West Virginia has connectivity, and hopefully we can get everybody up to 4G, at least,” he said. “You can’t force a private internet company to go into an area with 10 customers. There’s no return, I understand that. But what we can do is build the infrastructure, build the whole mile-out for them so that people can connect.”
On a related note, Manchin said his congressional website will soon feature an online hub to assist job seekers who may be prospective candidates for an estimated 10,000 positions in West Virginia that have gone unfilled.