In 2017, the West Virginia legislature created the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council within the West Virginia Department of Commerce. The Council has since released its Broadband Strategic Plan for 2020-2025 and a companion Broadband Development Guide, which explains basic terminology and technologies, highlights successful state and federal funding programs, and details policies and laws that communities need to navigate when deploying networks.
State-level resources provide local officials with essential tools for developing their own community broadband plans. They also help local officials to learn about funding guidelines, find efficiencies, and identify collaboration opportunities.
While the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought new challenges, new funding opportunities surfaced for initiatives targeted at bridging the digital divide. That is priceless in a state with persistently high deployment costs due to low population density, especially in areas with onerous terrain.
West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice allocated $50 million in CARES Act funding for broadband development. Additional funding made available through the American Rescue Plan may fund further expansion, with state and local officials planning to invest in broadband.
On April 28, 2021, Governor Justice approved broadband legislation designed to fast track the permitting process for high-speed infrastructure laid by municipalities and cooperatives. The law, which goes into effect on May 28th, will allow consumers to file complaints about service with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. It also mandates a credit for service outages lasting longer than 24 hours to incentivize speedy network repairs.
In an interview with Pew Charitable Trusts, Delegate Daniel Linville, the legislation’s initial sponsor, reiterated the overarching goal. “To connect every West Virginian, we must speed deployment, provide financial and regulatory compliance support, and bring people at every level of government and the private sector together to get the job done.”
Senator Robert Plymale agreed that uniting efforts across all three levels of government is a key component of expanding broadband access, stating that, “Among the key considerations in West Virginia, with almost all infrastructure concerns, are our low population density and our geography—not just the terrain itself, but the large distances between communities and anchor institutions.”