Carmichael: $1 billion broadband plan to ‘catapult’ WV to economic growth

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael says his office is tasked with coordinating different revenue streams to support Governor Jim Justice’s $1 billion dollar plan to expand broadband across West Virginia.

Mitch Carmichael

“We’re going to serve the unserved,” Carmichael said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The governor made the announcement on Friday. Carmichael said they will use funds generated at the federal, state and local levels as well as from the private sector to provide internet connections to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses.

“This can really, really catapult West Virginia to the top of economic growth,” Carmichael said.

West Virginia’s broadband connectivity rates and speeds are among the worst in the nation, Carmichael said. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has lead to virtual learning and meetings, has only made things worse.

“The pandemic has revealed and exasperated the need for broadband connectivity,” Carmichael said. “It’s an incredibly important problem that we need to address.”

The priority is going to be getting those connected who don’t have internet currently. Carmichael said they’re asking state residents to log on to┬áso they can identify problem areas in the state.

“Take the speed test. It logs in to our data mapping tool and we know exactly what the speeds are,” he said. “So we’re going to go to those areas that do not have broadband. That should be a comfort to the people of West Virginia.”

The goal is to complete each internet build within 1-2 years.

Carmichael said they plan to utilize the private sector to complete the projects. Providers will be able to apply to serve different areas.

“We’ll help the providers by subsidizing some of the builds to get fiber optic cable to those homes,” he said.

Justice previously said the $1 billion will be funneled through a pair of federal and state initiatives including the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund through the FCC and the West Virginia Broadband Initiative that will be operated through the state Office of Broadband and Broadband Council using mostly federal pandemic relief money.

About $718 million in state and federal funding is expected to be allocated by fall 2022.

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