By Bob Weaver

More West Virginia computer users are using broadband, or high-speed, but the state still lags behind the USA average.

While state reports say high-speed access went up 40 percent in 2005, most rural counties like Calhoun could be years behind.

"Broadband is growing in West Virginia," said Billy Jack Gregg, head of the state Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division.

By the beginning of this year, 27.5 percent of West Virginia homes subscribed to broadband Internet, according to a report by the West Virginia Advanced Services Task Force.

There is a difference between the state and national broadband rates because West Virginia residents tend to be older and have lower incomes and less education than the average American, Gregg said.

The study said fifty-eight percent of West Virginia households have a home computer, 10 percent below the national average.

The study says that broadband is available to 75 percent of West Virginia households, but that is misleading. Those numbers are skewed toward populated areas.

Rural counties with older telephone systems and limited TV cable distribution are still far behind.

Broadband users can get their service two ways: through a digital subscriber line (DSL) or a cable modem. In West Virginia, two-thirds of broadband users have cable modems.

Just because DSL is available in a telephone exchange, does not mean every household can subscribe. Only households or businesses within 2-3 miles of a telephone wire center can access the service.

Such limited service is available in Calhoun.

Upgrading remote service terminals can help provide access to more outlying areas, but rural phone services have been reluctant to finance the upgrades.

Still, 54 percent of West Virginians are using dial-up and 46 percent using broadband. Nationwide, about 65 percent use broadband.

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