Huge Internet Investment in West Virginia

West Virginia has one of the lowest Internet connectivity rates in the country. BroadbandNow ranks the Mountain State 44th.  According to the West Virginia Office of Broadband, 71 percent of the state has high-speed service (at least 100/20 Mbps) available.  Nine percent of the state is considered underserved, and 21 percent is unserved.

Only four percent of the serviceable locations in Calhoun County have high-speed service. In Clay County, it’s only nine percent.  Pocahontas County is at 18 percent. Putnam County, which is a growth county, still has 24 percent underserved or unserved.

However, West Virginia now has an opportunity to finally provide quality Internet service to everyone who wants it. President Biden this week announced a $42.5 billion grant program for high-speed Internet infrastructure deployment as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin worked to secure a whopping $1.2 billion for West Virginia. Our state has less than one percent of the population, but it is targeted for three percent of the money.

West Virginia is getting a disproportionate amount because, among other things, the state did a thorough job mapping the Internet coverage. The state leaned into the Federal Communications Commission’s Challenge process of the proposed maps and demonstrated more than 86,000 additional locations in need of service. That pushed the state’s allocation higher.

Capito, who has been grinding in Congress for years to bring more broadband money here, said everyone involved should be ashamed if all of West Virginia is not connected through the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

But there is a long way to go, and a lot of government benchmarks to meet, for the state to get all the money. That process will stretch into next year. And then there are the myriad logistical challenges of stringing fiber to tens of thousands of locations over the next several years.

That will be up to the commercial Internet providers who will have to pitch the state plans for expanded service and then meet specifications to receive the money. The providers have their own issues including, but not limited to, getting all the equipment and supplies they need. One provider told me there is a year-long wait for bucket trucks.

Kelly Collins Workman, Director of the state Office of Broadband and the Broadband Enhancement Council, has the challenge of overseeing the program. “It’s a lot of money, and it’s a huge responsibility and we take it very seriously,” Workman said on Talkline Wednesday.

High-speed connectivity has moved from a luxury to a necessity. Tele-health is becoming the norm. The mechanics of learning are changing due to technology. The home is the new office. And, of course, the entertainment options people have come to expect are Internet driven.

High-speed is now nearly as vital to our infrastructure as electricity. West Virginia is way behind on this technological front, but if the state and the private sector can manage this $1.2 billion properly, we will catch up with the rest of the country.





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