Frontier Communications officials met with the Hur Herald last week and will be releasing details on what broadband expansion will be developed in Calhoun and regional counties.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller says access to high-speed Internet is critical for the state's economic development.

Rockefeller and Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the FCC, spent about two hours in Ripley last week listening to people from a variety of backgrounds say why they believe broadband Internet access should be expanded to rural West Virginia and what they felt the federal government was doing right and wrong in that regard.

Frontier Communications has announced an aggressive expansion of high-speed Internet service in West Virginia.

West Virginia senior vice president Dana Waldo said Frontier is going to transform the state.

By the end of 2011, 85% of the company's customers will have access to broadband.

That's 2.5 years sooner than the deadline set in an agreement Frontier signed with the PSC earlier this year.

Frontier plans to spend $48 million on the expansion through the end of 2011.

West Virginia now ranks 47th in the nation for the percentage of homes with broadband availability.

Billy Jack Gregg of Universal Consulting of Charleston, a former state consumer advocate for the Public Service Commission, said that most households in West Virginia already have access to broadband Internet.

Gregg said those figures are skewed because urban areas have more households. For example, about 51 percent of the 11,000 households in Jackson County have access.

"The question is how are we going to get access to those 5,000-odd remaining households," he said.

West Virginia lags behind other states in terms of access because most major telecommunications providers say they can't make a profit providing high-speed Internet to remote, sparsely populated areas at affordable rates.

Rockefeller said, "It's like water, it's like roads - it's that basic...It defines where we are going to be in the 21st century."

"It is no longer a luxury to have this," Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader said. "It is a necessity."

Rockefeller defined broadband simply as "real fast Internet" speeds, but broadband connection speeds in West Virginia are frequently sub-standard.

Providers have been given a wide-swathe in defining broadband services.

Broadband speeds in the U.S. are lower than those in other industrialized nations, and the nation has been falling further behind every year since 2001, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Americans pay more for those lower speeds than their counterparts in other countries that pay for higher speeds.

Genachowski said that the nation has made high-speed Internet an infrastructure necessary like electricity and clean water.

"Broadband is in a bucket of services that are so essential in the ability to conduct business, the ability to participate in our economy, to education, to health care, that our goal in the country has to be for it to be universal," he said.

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