|Decades Of Initiatives Bring Glimmer Of Hope |
Mountain State "Yesterdays People"
By Bob Weaver 2016
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has joined with several Senate colleagues
for yet another imitative to form the Senate Broadband Caucus, a group that hopes to expand broadband internet access to rural areas across the country. Capito had an earlier imitative called "Capito Connects."
The latest group does not have a specific legislative agenda, but will work to help coordinate federal efforts to expand broadband and come up with new ideas to do so.
West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation in broadband accessibility, with 30 percent of residents lacking access.
In the most of the Mountain States rural areas, that number is as high as 48 percent.
More than 550,000 West Virginians lack access to broadband internet.
"The digital divide between rural and urban America is growing as essential broadband infrastructure falls behind in certain parts of the country," Capito said.
Across the country, 10 percent of Americans lack access to broadband, while in rural areas 40 percent of residents lack access, according to the annual broadband progress report released by the Federal Communications Commission.
Leaders compared the problem to the lack of electricity in rural areas in the 20th Century, accomplished by the Rural Electrification Administration.
West Virginia is so far behind the rest of the nation with access to real high speed broadband, access that would have allowed state businesses to diversify with the fall of coal.
The 2016 Republican-led legislature appeared to go to bat against Frontier Communications, a company that essentially holds a monopoly on their so called "high speed" broadband.
Frontier has a significant lobbying presence at the legislature, including actual employees who are voting members.
At least three initiatives were on the table, with Frontier agreeing with the WV Attorney General's office, to reduce the "high speed" service to $9.99 a month.
Frontier had been advertising speeds of up to 6 megabits per second, but many customers found speeds of 1.5 megabits per second or lower.
While the reduced rate could be pleasing to customers, it has a ring of acceptance of the status quo - terrible service.
Granted Frontier has had an awesome financial challenge, using an often antiquated landline service to deliver Internet access.
Then came a legislative bill that would have made real sense 25 years ago.
Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, introduced legislation that would create a $72 million fiber-optic Internet network in West Virginia.
The bill aims to increase Internet speeds, improve service and drive down prices for business and residential customers.
The bill went down two years in a row, calling for the selling of bonds for the project, no increase in taxes.
It was widely opposed by Frontier, based on the assumption that broadband technology is rapidly advancing beyond fiber-optic wired access.
It was also opposed by free market believers that the government should not overly invest in the free market business.
Charleston lawmakers appeared to be targeting telecommunications companies in West Virginia that advertise "high-speed" Internet service but don't deliver anything close to such speed to customers.
There seemed to be little forward movement.
The proposed legislation flopped that would require Internet providers, including Frontier, to offer download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second if the companies advertise their broadband service as "high speed."
Most West Virginians, particularly those who live in rural areas, don't have Internet speeds even close to 10 megabits.
The 10-megabit download speed requirement is significantly slower than federal guidelines. The Federal Communication Commission recently changed its standards and doesn't consider anything below 25 megabits per second to be high-speed Internet.
In 2014, Frontier Communications customers filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging the company "throttles back" its Internet service and provides speeds slower than advertised.
Nate Tawney, a lawyer with the House Judiciary Committee said, "They may advertise speeds up to 12 or 15 megabits per second, but the customer may receive only a fraction of that."
The end result will likely be the the state will remain at the end of the food chain with access to real broadband.
YEARS OF SMOKE AND MIRRORS
By Bob Weaver 11/30/2015
During the 1990s I started attending meetings, seminars, and conferences regarding the importance of bringing high-speed broadband to rural West Virginia.
That vision included improving education and economic development.
As a Calhoun commissioner, I stayed with the cause for nearly 18 years, but flunked.
The state's dependence on coal and extractables to drive the state's economy was already forecasted to decline, a failure to diversify.
Part of that vision was to bring high-tech jobs to the Mountain State with the promise you could run a business anywhere, even in the state's rural counties.
Since then providers and politicos have conducted studies, surveys, formed commissions and made dozens of pronouncements and promises about broadband coming soon to rural neighborhoods.
West Virginia is near the bottom with broadband speed, at least 47th of 50 states. Then the US lags way behind in developed nations.
Government has allowed providers to define their own broadband speed and allow them to falsely promote their services.
The US government says they are changing that.
Millions upon millions of federal dollars have been thrown at the WV development, much of it questionable. WV officials who juggernauted the dollars have never been held accountable for any misdirection.
Some progress has been made, but real broadband to rural West Virginia is still much of a smoke and mirrors game, with fees being paid by most West Virginians (those who have access) for sub-standard broadband service.
In rural counties, Frontier's so-called "high speed" is dysfunctional much of the time.
Meanwhile, America has thrown trillions of dollars at ill-begotten wars, globalized millions of jobs to countries that have developed better broadband technology and ignored US infrastructure.
In rural Calhoun, a few individuals have attempted to use Frontier "broadband" to run fledgling businesses, but find themselves driving to Parkersburg to upload or download files to operate.
We went to HughesNet satellite (still have Frontier) with a basic $70 a month package, but were required to buy $16 tokens for additional service, often costing $225 a month. We have now switched to Excede for $100 a month.
Even the promised real high-speed access to schools, responders and government agencies, while improved, is still in the lurch.
My quest to bring 21st Century technology to rural areas, spending hundreds of hours over the past 25 years, appears ill-fated.
About 56 percent of Mountain State residents don't have fundamental access to broadband services, and in some rural areas the number reaches as high as 74 percent.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. is making the latest initiative to improve access.
Her initiative is called "Capito Connect."
Brad Smith, president and CEO of Intuit, a software company that develops financial and tax preparation services, said with 40 percent of the state counted as having no broadband access. It is not only mandatory but also essential broadband is expanded.
"If we don't, we will be yesterday's people," said Smith.
Some legislative leaders have been coming up with ways to help West Virginia.
Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said
"In my mind, there is no better way to diversify West Virginia's economy than to put in place a 21st century infrastructure."
Walters said his plan, and the bill he will be introducing a second time in the 2016 regular legislative session, will be modeled after Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The mid-sized city began looking into its infrastructure to offer urban, rural, business or resident Internet speeds that "are unsurpassed in the Western Hemisphere."
If the state could invest in broadband with a bill like the one Walters is pushing, it could mean big things for the way the Mountain State handles business and it could also mean big things for education and the future.
But with WVs scattered, rural and low-populated areas, it is difficult to be hopeful.
BROADBAND SMOKE AND MIRRORS
TECHNOLOGY "HIGHWAY" DETOURS RURAL COUNTIES - Economic Future At Stake
BACKWOODS INTERNET TECHNOLOGY STILL A DREAM - Information Super Highway A Sluggish Road
WV BEHIND NATION WITH INTERNET ACCESS - Broadband Limited In Rural Counties
WEST VIRGINIA NEAR BOTTOM WITH INTERNET SPEED
UNIVERSAL BROADBAND MAY NOT COME BY 2010
NO ONE SOUNDED ALARM - Millions Lost In Mid-Ohio Valley High-Speed Venture
WV DEAD LAST IN BROADBAND ACCESS
BROADBAND DREAMS FOR RURAL AREAS - New Declarations Bring Hope?
FLASHBACK 2011: CALHOUN HAS WORST WV 'BROADBAND' SPEED - Frontier Hedges On Broadband Plans For Regional Counties
BROADBAND INTERNET PUBLIC RELATIONS BS
BROADBAND PROMISES FALL SHORT WITH STATE'S $126 MIL PROJECT
WV SPENT $15 MILLION ON BROADBAND PROJECTS ABOVE PROJECT NEEDS - Bringing State Into 21st Century Flunks Again
BROADBAND IN RURAL WV: BROKEN PROMISES, BROKEN DREAMS - Dobbins Explains Your Broadband Woes, Offers Helpful Suggestions
FRONTIER WARNS STATE NOT TO REDEFINE BROADBAND SPEED
WV BROADBAND COUNCIL VOTES TO SET STANDARDS ON BROADBAND SPEED - Frontier Widely Opposes Move
WV'S BROADBAND WOES: FRONTIER GRANTED "UNINTENDED" MONOPOLY - Secret Study Reveals State Squandered Millions Of Dollars
BROADBAND WOES - Governor's Office Shuts Down Broadband Audit
MOUNTAIN STATE GETS $24 MIL TO EXPAND BROADBAND TO RURAL AREAS
BROADBAND WOES - WV's Smoke And Mirrors Fiasco Must Be Investigated
$22 MILLION "CONNECT AMERICA" FRONTIER GRANT WILL GIVE RURAL WEST VIRGINIANS BROADBAND ACCESS? - Calhoun Will Be CBS News Subject, Poor Broadband Connectivity
WV ISSUES TO BE FEATURED ON CBS-DUTCH NEWS - TV Crew Visits Calhoun, Broadband Promises
BROADBAND WOES - Feds Orders $2.5 Million Returned For WV Broadband Solutions
HELP IS ON THE WAY - FCC Launches Rural Broadband Experiments
FEDS INVESTIGATING HOW WEST VIRGINIA OFFICIALS AND FRONTIER SPENT MILLIONS ON BROADBAND IMPROVEMENTS
BROADBAND PROMISES, BROADBAND DREAMS - Frontier Sued Over Internet Speeds, Outages
BROADBAND PROMISES, BROADBAND DREAMS - WV Broadband Council Closes Doors
CALHOUN AT END OF BROADBAND PIPELINE IN WV