West Virginia State and Local Officials Discuss Broadband with McKinley | News, Sports, Jobs
picture by: Photo by Steven Allen Adams
PARKERSBURG — With West Virginia managing more than $1 billion in broadband funding through multiple federal sources, 1st District Congressman David McKinley met with state and local leaders Friday in Parkersburg and telecom industry officials on how to best use those dollars.
McKinley, RW.Va., hosted a roundtable on broadband issues at the Parkersburg Municipal Building Friday morning with Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, Wood County Commission Chairman Blair Couch, and representatives county commissions for Ritchie, Doddridge, Tyler and Gilmer counties. .
Also present were representatives from the Wood County Economic Development Office, the United States Telecom Association, the Wireless Industry Network and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. McKinley said it was important to hear from a diverse group of people with multiple perspectives on broadband deployment.
“Broadband is so complex that I thought maybe it would be good for us all to sit down and listen to some of the players involved in this file,” McKinley said.
West Virginia is set to receive $138 million for broadband expansion as part of President Joe Biden’s US bailout. The state can also use some of the $1.355 billion it receives under the US bailout for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion. Counties and cities are receiving a combined $679 million through the Biden plan that can also be used for broadband projects.
Factoring in previous funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program, West Virginia has more than $1 billion to broadband expansion.
The latest round of funding comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in November. West Virginia will receive at least 0 million for broadband expansion through the proposed physical infrastructure bill.
“What we have in this infrastructure bill is a lot of positive things that are going to happen in West Virginia, but the one thing we hear so much about in this infrastructure bill is the high throughput,” McKinley said. “What we constantly hear is that we don’t have good internet, we don’t have good broadband, we don’t have good cell phone service. I could go on and on about the seriousness of the situation in West Virginia. When we talk to people and economic development people, that’s the first thing they talk about. How are we going to attract business here if we don’t have good service? »
Mitch Carmichael, cabinet secretary for the Department of Economic Development, said programs put in place by the Office of Broadband last year have put West Virginia ahead of other states in planning for broadband infrastructure. Efforts include more reliable broadband maps to show where unserved areas of the state are, expansion of existing network line extensions, rapid wireless deployment projects, major investments in the broadband infrastructure, public/private partnerships and matching broadband/local government funding incentives.
” We move forward. The infrastructure bill has helped an incredible amount to provide funds for needed infrastructure,” Carmichael said. “One of the good markers that we’re hitting is the digital divide, the lack of broadband availability…all of our efforts and programs that we’ve put in place are just to reach the unserved.”
Carmichael said the Office of Broadband has identified approximately 300,000 homes and addresses in West Virginia that lack adequate broadband services as defined by the FCC as download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and speeds 3 Mbps download. Carmichael believes the programs his department has put in place will rapidly expand broadband and spur competition among Internet service providers.
“We think competition is the right way, incentivizing new investment and all of those aspects are the best way,” Carmichael said. “We’d rather a customer say ‘if I don’t like my broadband service, fine. I’m going to register with Competitor B’ instead of saying ‘Let’s go to the Legislative Assembly and make a rule that you have to do this or do that.’ We resist this.
Couch said one of the biggest frustrations for the county is getting both broadband and reliable wireless service in rural areas. Attempts to have the county build its own tower were unsuccessful as no carriers wanted to participate.
“We have a dual problem in some areas of Wood County, especially like the community of Belleville,” Couch said. “There is no broadband, so people and children are driving all the way to Lubeck to sit in the church parking lot to go to their online lesson. They don’t have cellular coverage…we’ve looked into putting towers in but can’t get a provider to collocate.
Loyd Linger, WIN representative in West Virginia and president of Buckhannon-based Innovative Tower Solutions, said finding workers to climb poles and towers to install broadband is also a problem. Nationally, Linger said there were 15,000 vacancies for workers with an average cost of training new workers of $10,000 per week.
“Funding for training is what’s killing us,” Linger said. “If I train a guy and 10 months later he gets robbed, I’m $10,000 short and they get another trained employee.”
Linger said the infrastructure bill should include a grant program to offset training costs. He also said a training program for new telecom workers with the local community and technical colleges would be helpful. Carmichael said he would speak to the West Virginia Community and Technical College System about implementing such a training program.