Virginia Governor’s Office Hosts Roundtable on New Broadband Strategy
CHARLESTON, Va. (WSAZ) – After announcing a new broadband strategy to help households with limited or no access last week, Gov. Jim Justice, along with other heads of state, hosted a table on Wednesday round to discuss the new project.
“There’s nothing I can see right now (as) important as statewide broadband,” Governor Jim Justice (R-West Virginia) said. âSo many people come and are disappointed when they come because we don’t even have the ability to connect ourselves in many different areas of our state. In doing so, you know, it’s surely difficult not only to attract, but also extremely difficult to keep.
On Friday, the justice government announced the new strategy which is expected to bring high-speed internet to approximately 200,000 households and businesses across Mountain State.
âHigh-speed Internet connectivity in West Virginia has held us back, despite all the growth we’ve seen,â said West Virginia Department of Economic Development secretary Mitch Carmichael. “We have programs in place, plans, (and) mapping tracks in which to use these funds to deploy broadband.”
Geographic Information System (GIS) Coordinator Jamie Hoffman manages all data and mapping for broadband development. Hoffman said they have made a huge transition to map broadband availability from census block level to address level.
âWe’ve counted 200,000 addresses and counting that we’re going to target for our broadband programs,â Hoffman said. “We have identified addresses that have broadband access and will receive broadband statewide.”
Hoffman said they have involved residents across the state in a speed test, survey and information so they can update their address database to identify the lack of service.
Until now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mapped broadband data at the census block level. This means that if a specific person or location in that census block had broadband service at some level, the FCC would count the entire census block as served.
“Our problem in West Virginia is that one person in that census block may be served, but there may be 50 others who are not,” said Kelly Collins Workman, director of the Department of Economic Development. and West Virginia broadband. âWe made a critical transition in West Virginia from census block data, which is very generous and very general, to address level data. The current system unfairly penalizes residents who do not really have a service and they are just included in this generalized number which does not really reflect the reality on the ground.
Executives say processing their data based on specific addresses will help determine who needs services and connect them to them.
The governor’s strategy will add a state broadband program of $ 236 million to $ 362 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission and $ 120 million from other state and federal sources, for a total of $ 718 million of government funding that should be allocated by fall 2022.
Funds will be allocated through competitive programs that attract matching funds from private sector partners and local governments, generating more than $ 1 billion in total broadband investments.
âThis money can only be used to serve those who don’t have broadband service,â Carmichael said. “So we are absolutely going to those that are currently unserved, as defined by the FCC, which is 25 to three megabits of speed.”
The second major component of the strategy will be managed by the state’s Office of Broadband and Broadband Council, using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and funding from the state budget. ARPA’s capital projects fund includes $ 136 million for broadband in West Virginia.
Last Friday, the Governor of Justice added two bills to the West Virginia Special Session that would create an additional $ 90 million from ARPA’s state tax recovery funds for large-scale projects. band, as well as a $ 10 million credit from state general revenue funds for wireless broadband projects. These sources will provide combined funding of $ 236 million for the state’s competitive broadband projects initiative.
Carmichael said that once internet access is provided to homes that need it, they will conduct audits and speed tests to make sure broadband is working properly.
Carmichael said the work would take about two years at most on some of the programs, while other areas, which will have federal programs, may not see the work completed for five years. However, officials say their goal is to have many new connections before the end of the year.
âOur goal with our first wave of funding is to achieve what we call functional connectivity, which means we’d love to get there,â Workman said. âA good high level figure, say 90%, that of our response population or the rural areas we reached with broadband. Then we can keep working on that 10% and we have to make it a goal, the governor has committed, the legislature is committed, to make sure we maintain a sustainable broadband agenda in Virginia- Western.
During the roundtable, panel members were asked if this would be affordable for West Virginia:
Affordability is built into their criteria, replied Carmichael. âOne of the components of our scoring mechanism is an accessibility level. In addition, there is a federal program called the Broadband Emergency Benefit Program which provides a grant of $ 50 (per) month to any resident of the county in which their county attends, under the Title One free or reduced lunch program, which is virtually anywhere in West Virginia.
If you would like to view the interactive broadband map of West Virginia, click here.
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