By March 27, 2017 Read More →

‘Broadband access is crucial’: High speed internet bill passes House, makes way to Senate

By CHARLIE BOOTHE

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Broadband access in West Virginia will get a boost if a bill passed Friday by the House makes its way through the Senate and is signed by Gov. Jim Justice.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, 97-2, in the House.

Co-sponsored by Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, the bill is called the Broadband Enhancement and Expansion Policies, and one of its main purposes is to authorize the creation of “cooperative associations” in remote areas.

“This is the most important bill that has come out of our committee (Judiciary),” Shott said. “It’s a comprehensive bill that won’t cost any money, but it will give the opportunity for more competition among broadband providers.”

Fast internet service is crucial for businesses as well as individuals these days, he said, and those services are often lacking in more rural areas.

The cooperatives would pool resources and be used as a “mechanism for folks that are not being served to work together” to gain access, he said, adding that at least 20 users, either businesses or individuals, would be needed to create a cooperative.

Rural areas have in the past been left out of obtaining high speed internet service from carriers for basically economic reasons.

“Part of the problem is the big carriers like Frontier say it’s not worth their investment,” he said, referring to extending the service into more remote areas by running the needed fiber optic cables. “They just can’t recoup their costs.”

Cooperatives would be eligible for federal grants, he said, which help create the “last mile infrastructure” of providing broadband access to virtually everyone.

That includes helping to pay for “microtrenching,” burying the fiber optic cables that are necessary to provide the service from carriers.

“Then Frontier (or another provider) can basically connect them (members of the cooperative) to the fiber optic network they have in a way that can be cost-effective,” he said.

Shott said it also provides a way for cooperatives to negotiate reasonable prices with carriers.

“The places (that are remote) where we do have the service, it’s extremely expensive, more so than in other areas,” he said.

Shott said the state secretary of commerce supports the bill, and “I am hoping the administration and the Governor are behind it.”

The bill is now headed for the Senate, which is expected to also pass it.

State Sen. Chandler Swope, R-6th District, said he will support the bill.

“We have a tremendous need for broadband and I think the cooperative approach is one of the better ways to solve that,” he said. “I’m totally in favor of it.”

Swope said he attended a full day’s seminar on broadband.

“I learned that it is the first option we can give communities that help them,” he said. “I am hopeful the bill will pass the Senate and I don’t know of any reason it shouldn’t.”

Jim Spencer, economic development director for the City of Bluefield, agrees that broadband access is necessary in today’s economy.

“That’s one of the reasons we had the Cool & Connected team in Bluefield last week,” he said, referring to a program that teaches business people about the availability of high speed internet and how to use it for their businesses.

Spencer said it is now a global economy.

“Without access to broadband, our businesses cannot compete on a global scale,” he said, explaining that products are now marketed all around the country and the world.

“Broadband access is crucial as an economic development tool,” he said.

Another part of the bill would prohibit internet service providers from advertising the downstream data rate or upstream data rate service solely in terms of the maximum anticipated data rate or as an “up to” speed.

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