By Bob Weaver

Shortcomings in federal data on internet access may slow down West Virginia's race for better connection speeds.

A federal study says Gilmer County residents have 100% access to a fixed broadband connection, along with six other counties.

That is highly incorrect information.

Funds from a $1.98 billion federal program to expand rural internet access cannot be used in those West Virginia counties.

The seven counties a recent FCC report suggests have 100 percent fixed broadband access: Barbour, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Randolph and Upshur.

The ineligibility of these counties comes after Rob Hinton, chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, blasted the data for "not even being close to correct" and expressed concerns that the report would take these counties out of the running for federal help.

That same FCC report — the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report — ranked West Virginia 43rd among states in fixed broadband access, while other studies say it is much worse.

"The problem is if one person in that census block gets [broadband], then that whole census block is counted as served. That's like saying if someone in the U.S. has access to fresh lobster, then they all do. That's just not really true."

Over the past 25 years, there have been at least 20 studies and initiatives to bring real broadband to West Virginia's rural communities. Additionally, the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill passed last week includes $600 million for a pilot program focused on providing loans and grants for rural broadband expansion.

The Clay, Calhoun and Roane council received an initial grant of $125,000 to pursue a developing a regional plan for those counties.

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