By MAX GARLAND
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians will soon have more options when it comes to getting a broadband connection.
Gov. Jim Justice signed into law House Bill 3093, a bill designed to incentivize competition among internet providers and expand broadband access through various methods, ranging from co-ops to easier access to telecommunications poles.
Throughout the session, various groups such as the AARP and Generation West Virginia, along with smaller area providers like CityNet, vied for the bill’s passage. They said the bill is essential for a state lagging in broadband accessibility in an age where it is necessary for any economic development.
Representatives for Frontier Communications and the cable industry argued the legislation should target areas without internet access as opposed to areas already served by companies.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate (31-1 vote) and the House (97-2 vote).
Despite its bipartisan support, advocates weren’t 100 percent sure Justice would approve the bill. The governor has worked with and hired representatives of Frontier and the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, which opposed the bill.
With the bill, up to 20 families or businesses can form nonprofit co-ops that provide a broadband service. Three cities or counties can also band together to build their own broadband networks.
The bill also allows small internet providers easier access to telephone poles owned by utilities, an aspect of the bill contested by Frontier. Spokesman Andy Malinoski said it could conflict with federal rules on pole attachments.
Providers can receive loan guarantees of up to $10 million through the bill from the state Economic Development Authority, in order to establish broadband in areas with no existing service.
The bill originally prevented providers from advertising their maximum download speeds, but that aspect was nixed by the Senate Government Organization Committee.
A Federal Communications Commission report ranked West Virginia 48th in broadband availability.
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