An opportunity to hear and participate in a legislative forum about West Virginia’s broadband issues is happening in Charleston today, Thursday Dec. 17, from 1 – 5 p.m.
The forum will take place at the House Government Organization Committee room in the State Capitol (room 215E on the California Ave side of the Capitol). Come to the Capitol or listen in on the Legislature’s Audio Room site by going to the West Virginia Legislature Live site and then clicking on the Gov.org link under House Committees.
Fifty-six percent of West Virginians lack access to high-speed internet.
In the global economy, broadband infrastructure is as essential to individual and community economic prosperity as utilities like water, sewage, and electric.
People now depend on the internet for work, education, entertainment, healthcare and civic participation.
When given access to affordable internet, businesses restricted to local markets can expand their market reach across the nation and even the world. But communities that lack this foundational infrastructure are unable to attract the businesses and industries needed to create jobs and expand opportunity.
Research from Deloitte shows that for every 10 people who gain access to the internet, at least one person is lifted out of poverty and one new job is created.
Internet expansion is a foundational strategy for economic revitalization in West Virginia.
So how did we get to be so behind in internet access as a state?
A lot of it comes down to the fact that sparsely populated areas often lack the financial incentive for Internet service providers to invest in costly high speed broadband infrastructure when they can’t count on making their costs back in customer usage fees.
That’s why state investment is so needed to increase broadband access to all West Virginians.
Senator Chris Walters is championing a broadband expansion bill that would allow the state to create a fund to start applying for federal funds and bonds to build a state-owned fiber optic network, giving West Virginia the fastest and most affordable fiber optic backbone in the U.S.
Internet service providers would lease access to this middle mile network and the proceeds would be used to cover construction costs and upkeep of the line.
With a cost of $78 million to build, this middle mile network is estimated to create 4,000 jobs and increase the state GDP by $919 million just one year post completion of the network.
After Chattanooga, Tenn. made a similar investment, they’ve seen over $50 million in investments and they are now ranked the best place in the country to work from home.
Our legislators need to understand that increasing access to high speed internet expands opportunity across almost every sector including education, health, public safety, tourism, economic development, community development and entrepreneurship.
What citizens and leaders say.
Check out Michelle Allen’s piece on how Whitesville’s lack of internet impacts the community’s ability to communicate and to revitalize the town:
“We love living in Whitesville. But, in 2015, it seems unfair that the price we have to pay for that is to be disconnected from the rest of West Virginia, and even our own community.”
See also Owsley County, KY Superintendent Tim Bobrowski’s piece on how access to the internet has enabled this rural community to increase classroom time and improving student performance:
“Despite the same landscape and weather challenges faced by many areas of West Virginia, in 2015, the schools in Owsley County, in the coalfield region of eastern Kentucky, did not lose any days of school to snow or inclement weather.”
We will continue to highlight stories from around the state to increase awareness of the far-reaching impacts on West Virginia’s communities when the state has one of the lowest high speed internet access rates in the country. If you or someone you know has been impacted by limited access to high-speed internet and you want to share your story, contact Natalie Roper at email@example.com.
First Annual Broadband Day
If you believe in the importance of increased broadband access for West Virginians, come show your support at the first annual Broadband Day on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in the Lower Rotunda of the Capitol. The day will feature speakers from different fields and opportunities for you to talk to your legislators about why broadband access is so important to you and your community.
When we increase access to broadband, we increase community access to opportunity, education, health services, and wealth. With a strong coalition, we can pass broadband legislation this session. I hope you’ll join us!