BECKLEY, W.Va. — During a groundbreaking ceremony Monday to mark the beginning of construction of a high capacity fiber optic cable network crossing through West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice said completion of the network will provide state residents with an essential platform for modern online interaction with the rest of the world.
“We’ve been kind of left out in West Virginia and we need, absolutely, that connectivity. This will be traversing across our state. It’ll have more bandwidth that we’ll be able to plug into with the internet and everything else,” he said. “It will make its way, slow but sure, to your homes, and is exactly what we need. We need last-mile connectivity, not just middle-mile.”
In March, social media giant Facebook announced it’s decision to enter the fiber transport business and launched a subsidiary, Middle Mile Infrastructure, to act as a wholesale carrier for a 600-mile route connecting data centers in Ashburn, Virginia and Columbus, Ohio, with 275 miles of the high-capacity line running through West Virginia.
“The goal of this project is one thing, and that is, from our standpoint, no question, the construction of it will bring significant dollars to West Virginia,” said Justice. “We negotiated this for them to have additional bandwidth in the lines for us to be able to plug in all kinds of internet services and greatly increase our broadband capabilities.”
Among those joining the governor for the event at Tamarack were U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr, Facebook Sourcing Manager Boh DuPree, and West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council Chairman Rob Hinton, who told MetroNews there were significant challenges to address, while the project was still in its initial planning stages.
“One of the hurdles was that Facebook is not an internet service provider and we didn’t really have a system set up in the state to accommodate them in the roadbed right-of-way. So, one of the things that we had to work with the Department of Highways, with the governor’s office — and it was a very smooth transition — was to figure out how to make it available for them to put their infrastructure in,” he said.
A recent change in state law allowed Facebook to enter into a lease agreement with the WVDOH and the West Virginia Parkways Authority.
DuPree credited state transportation officials, as well as the West Virginia Department of Commerce and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History for getting the proposal off the ground.
“It takes an enormous amount of teamwork, partnership, and collaboration as we kick off a large project like this. I would like to recognize all the teams that came together,” DuPree said. “I know each of you are devoted to broadband infrastructure in West Virginia and we’re really excited at Facebook to be a partner in that mission.”
Capito recalled a meeting last year with the head of Facebook.
“Making sure West Virginia has reliable, high-speed internet has been a priority of mine since I was first elected to Congress,” she said. “I’m glad Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg followed through on his commitment he made to me during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing where I asked him to partner with West Virginia on rural fiber deployment. Builds like this are extremely important for our rural areas because they provide these communities with the capacity to offer truly high-speed internet service. I’m excited for what a fully connected West Virginia can offer the rest of the country, as well as what it can do for the future of our state. Today’s groundbreaking brings us another step closer to achieving that goal.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. also commented on the developments.
“The groundbreaking of Facebook’s project to install fiber in West Virginia is one way for West Virginians to connect our communities. While I am disappointed that Facebook did not choose West Virginia as a site for one of their new data centers, I’ve continued to meet with Facebook about the issues we face in rural America, like access to the reliable broadband all West Virginians deserve and the sale of illegal drugs like opioids on Facebook’s platforms,” Manchin said in a statement.
Construction of the fiber route is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete, with the West Virginia portion of the route starting at the western border and crossing the Kanawha Valley before making a northwest turn.