The New River Gorge seen from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center Overlook, West Virginia. (Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com)

West Virginia maps out broadband investment plan

West Virginia is investing $1 billion to expand broadband availability to 200,000 more underserved homes and businesses. A plan unveiled by Gov. Jim Justice on Oct. 15 will combine funding from federal, state and local governments, along with matching investments from private-sector partners.

West Virginia has one of the nation’s lowest broadband connectivity rates, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which estimates that at least 30% of the state’s rural homes and businesses currently lack adequate broadband access. Expansion has been hindered by the difficulty of extending fiber into mountainous, sparsely populated rural areas.

For more than two years, the state has been mapping broadband access and now has a detailed inventory of underserved locations that will inform funding allocations.

The primary programs involved in the billion-dollar initiative include:

  • The FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which offers internet service providers funding to extend service to underserved areas. The program features a reverse auction in which ISPs compete for grants to connect underserved census tracts, with each tract awarded to the ISP that can connect it with the least amount of federal subsidization. The RDOF funding will be complemented by investment from participating ISPs to create a minimum expected RDOF impact of $500 million. The program is expected to provide broadband availability to approximately 119,000 homes and businesses over five years.
  • The American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Fund, which will devote $136 million, along with a $90 million appropriation of ARPA State Fiscal Recovery and a $10 million appropriation of state general revenue funds for broadband projects. Matching-funds requirements are expected to generate at least $150 million beyond the state contribution, for a total state-based program impact of at least $386 million. The West Virginia Broadband Office projects that the first homes and businesses connected in the state-based program will gain broadband access by the end of 2021.
  • Other existing funding sources – including those from the FCC, the Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration -- are expected to contribute at least $120 million.

“Broadband is essential to modern life,” Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael said. “This comprehensive strategy coordinates a wide variety of funding sources that add up to a record investment in high-speed internet.”

“West Virginia students deserve to be able to do their homework,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “Our seniors deserve access to telehealth. Our businesses deserve to be able to reach their customers and suppliers. And all our residents deserve to be able to interact with their government, stay informed as citizens, and do all the hundreds of things that take high-speed internet. Starting today, we’re going to make that possible.”

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