Statewide broadband push picking up more federal money and momentum

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia broadband expansion program picked up a major approval this month and project applications are under review.

State Department of Economic Development Broadband Office Director Kelly Workman told state lawmakers last week West Virginia is one of only four states so far to earn approval from the federal government for the Capital Projects plan.

Kelly Workman

“With this approval we now access to $136 million through the Capital Projects Fund,” Workman said. “So, we’ll be rolling this into the other programs.”

The state has received $103 million in various grants from 2017 to 2021 and set up the West Virginia Broadband Development Fund with $100 million from the American Rescue Plan and state and local fiscal recovery funds. This is addition to an estimated $700 million in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law.

There are four programs designed to disperse the money to the most impactful projects and complete the work as quickly as possible.

The Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD)program has 10 proposed projects valued at an estimated $22 million. These projects would extend connectivity to 5,900 residents and install about 425 miles of fiber optic cable.

“I would consider these projects in permit stage, and we’re trying to get through the permit process as quick as we can,” Workman said. “That is often the most lengthy time in the construction process.”

The Gig Ready program is geared to help local government units maximize the use of federal relief dollars. The program received 29 project applications and 23 more applications for technical assistance in preparation for construction.

“We have one project in Roane County that is a multi-county project involving the central area of the state,” Workman said. “Also, Raleigh and Summers and in the south eastern part of the state the Greenbrier County Commission has a significant application in to us, so we’re working through all of these applications right now.”

The Major Broadband Project Strategies (MBPS)program has received 72 applications totaling projects valued at about $602 million. This program focuses on major expansions and new networks. It is estimated more than 171,000 addresses would be impacted.

“We’re in the final stages of reviews for the MBPS program and hope to have a first tier set of recommendations available very soon,” Workman said.

The fourth option is the Wireless Internet Networks (WIN) plan. This plan will use state funds only to upgrade or expand existing wireless infrastructure.

The application review process places importance on the potential impact a project might have- locally and how the surrounding areas could be helped.

“We’re looking at factors related to community development, workforce development and any areas that might present economic opportunity,” Workman said.

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