Delegates today passed a broad-ranging broadband bill that they hope will promote online connectivity across West Virginia.
Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said the aim of the bill is to speed the deployment of broadband and reduce the overall cost. Delegates said the need for improvement has long existed in West Virginia, but the increase of remote activities during the covid-19 pandemic has underscored that demand.
“It’s the single most important thing in my opinion that we could do this year given the covid-19 pandemic, but it was important long before that,” Linville said.
Aspects of the bill are intended to expedite rights of way, produce a broadband availability map and compel high-speed internet providers to submit to greater legislative oversight. It also lays out some of the powers and responsibilities of the state Office of Broadband.
The bill lays out what it means to be unserved or underserved. It would require a broadband operator to credit subscribers for service interruptions of more than 24 hours
“We want people to have choice and competition and quality and the free market pressures that would be inherent,” Linville said.
Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, wondered if the bill will truly help rural communities. He supported the bill, but said he’d heard that goal for a long time.
“I think sometimes our constituents think we forget it because we’ve been talking about his so long and made so little progress,” Boggs said. “Nobody sees anything changed. Shame on us for letting that happen that nothing changes.”
Boggs said he supported this bill as well as additional efforts to expand broadband availability. He said many people love aspects of live in central West Virginia, but some choose not to move there because high-speed internet is hard to come by.
“At a time when we’re hemorrhaging population I would hope this would be something that would really become a priority, not just something we’re talking about,” Boggs said.
Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, also urged support for the bill.
“People would love to live in West Virginia, but right now without having access to broadband that affects our home values,” Thompson said.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he supported the bill. He wondered how much of the state would currently be considered underserved.
“I sincerely hope this does move the needle,’ Pushkin said.
Linville responded that it’s unclear how many areas are considered underserved because that term was just defined by the bill, allowing it now to be measured. He said underserved areas could be mapped if the bill becomes law.
Linville said more work is to come.
“I don’t think it’s the last step we’ll take this year,” he said.