(09/07/2012)
A West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Business Summit at the Greenbrier took a hard look at West Virginia's plight when it comes to broadband eligibility and speed.

It's a pretty bleak picture.

Jim Martin, president of CityNet, Timothy Biltz, chief executive officer of Lumos Networks, and John Ruddick, president of Verizon West Virginia, participated in a panel discussion about technology.

Martin noted that a Federal Communications Commission study just released last showed that nearly half of West Virginia residents do not have access to broadband Internet service.

"The challenge we have is getting to rural communities like Pickens and Bemis where there is no infrastructure and for the most part there's only one provider and they have a monopoly," Martin said.

Martin also noted that a big problem in West Virginia is the poor connection speed.

A recent study by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration shows that West Virginia ranks 52nd in broadband availability using a three-megabits-per-second service threshold.

"That's one step above Guam," Martin said.

Martin said, "Imagine zero megabits per second being at my feet, 100 megabits per second being at the top of my head and 1,000 megabits per second being at the ceiling." Motioning toward the floor, he said, "Our average Internet speed in West Virginia is 3 megabits a second."

"We've got Google installing fiber in Kansas City and launching gigabit service, which is beyond the ceiling," he continued. Although much of the state is being brought within range of Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, service, the technology doesn't currently exist to make DSL as fast as competing technologies.

"When we're shooting for the floor, that's not going to take us anywhere," Martin said. "How do you catch up with the rest of the country? It requires capital, competition and political leadership."

Ruddick, the president of Verizon West Virginia, said the Internet offers extraordinary opportunities for advancing education.

He said challenges including making sure students have access, that learning is personalized, and content and instruction are high quality.

A South Charleston High School asked, "What are the most important qualities businesses are looking for in a workforce?"

Sartarelli, the college dean, answered, "The ability to write and speak well is important, regardless of the field you're in. Also, the ability to think critically."

"A lot of people have difficulty synthesizing," he said.


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