BROADBAND PROBLEMS, BROADBAND DREAMS - State-Wide Broadband Initiative Dies In Legislature

(03/15/2016)

By Bob Weaver

Help is not on the way.

West Virginia has the among the poorest broadband speeds in the USA, even after over 20 years of initiatives, high dollar government investment, and political promises. The problem is more prevalent in dozens of rural areas.

An FCC report said Calhoun County is the worst.

Although the state Senate passed legislation that aimed to expand broadband Internet across the state, the House of Delegates declined to take up the bills, parking it in committees and dooming them to the legislative landfill with just two days remaining in this year's regular session.

“It's unfortunate,” said Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, who pushed broadband expansion. “I think not making that a priority [in the House] has been an issue.”

The bills to help bring reaL broadband remained on the sidelines, saying legislators will study it some more.

Last month, the Senate passed a bill (SB 315) that would create a state-owned fiber-cable Internet network. The legislation allowed Internet companies — and perhaps cities and counties — to apply for grant money and bonds through the state government. The Internet providers would build the statewide network in segments.

Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, contends that the project would spur competition, driving down prices and bolstering Internet speeds.

“It would create one of the fastest and most affordable fiber-optic infrastructures in the country,” he said.

Frontier Communications and cable companies lobbied against the bill, arguing that the project wasn't economically sustainable, and that it would leave taxpayers on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.

But the legislation stalled in the House Finance Committee. The tax breaks were expected to cost the state about $6.1 million over the life of the program.

“All the tax credit bills this year have had close scrutiny because of the budget situation,” Cowles said.

The legislation required Internet providers to offer download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second if the companies advertise their broadband service as “high speed.”

The state has yet to provide action that would spur 21st Century technology in a state whose jobs and tax base has crumbled, depending on coal and natural gas.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, a Frontier executive, sharply criticized the legislation on the Senate floor, saying the bill would discourage Internet providers from expanding existing broadband networks or building new ones.

Frontier agreed to lower their so-called "high speed Internet" service to less that $10 a month to some customers.

See BROADBAND PROMISES, BROADBAND DREAMS - New Initiatives Bring Glimmer Of Hope


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