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Manchin: W.Va. still playing broadband catch-up


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia is still playing broadband catch-up — especially in the states rural pockets, according to Sen. Joe Manchin D-W Va, who last week released an updated report card on broadband penetration in the state.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Likening broadband connectivity to the spotty availability of electricity in the 1930s, when utility companies were delivering electricity, Manchin said a renewed push must be made to get broadband access to all part of the Mountain State.

According to Manchin, current estimates indicate an estimated 554,124 West Virginians statewide still do not have access to reliable broadband.

“We as a country have made strides over the past decade increasing broadband access across rural America, but there is still much work to be done in West Virginia,” said Manchin in his West Virginia Broadband Report. “Every West Virginian must have reliable and affordable broadband access to fully participate in the 21st century.”

Manchins latest broadband charge is part of an overall push by the Democratic Party to get the federal government to spend an estimated $40 billion in new funding for internet infrastructure in rural areas of the country.

A Senate proposal introduced Sept. 27 would make internet providers compete for the right to build out broadband networks across the country. According to the proposal, local governments would be in line for funding.

Such funding would most certainly impact West Virginia, which ranks 47th in overall broadband penetration, with 30 percent of residents not having access to broadband service.

According to the Federal Communication Commissions “2016 Broadband Progress Report” only 61 percent of rural residents nationwide have access to broadband.

However, West Virginias broadband penetration in rural regions is even lower, according to the FCC report. An estimated 48 percent of rural residents in the state — or 462,020 people –have no access to high-speed broadband internet service.

“Estimates indicate that nearly half of rural West Virginians do not have internet that adequately meets the FCCs definition of broadband, compared to 39 percent nationwide,” Manchin said.

Part of West Virginias slow broadband penetration problem lies in the states geography. Many rural residents live in mountainous regions where high-speed broadband deployment is more difficult. Also, such rural areas with low population counts are economically unattractive to broadband carriers without federal support, Manchin said.

However, the next generation of mobile broadband — dubbed “5G” — may provide a broadband boost in the arm for West Virginia. The technology is estimated to spur $275 billion in broadband investment, Manchin said.

Manchin and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, this year introduced the Rural Broadband Deployment Streamlining Act to streamline the application process required to construct broadband infrastructure on federal lands.

According to Manchin, the Mobility Fund II — approved by the FCC in August — would provide $4.5 billion in Federal support over 10 years to expand mobile broadband coverage across the country.

Manchin has also written to Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, to push the FCC to move forward with the Remote Areas Fund.

“There are 12,328 locations in West Virginia that fall into the FCCs “above extremely high-cost” category, meaning they are some of the most rural and remote areas in the nation,” Manchin said.

Staff writer Jim McConville can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or Twitter@jmcconvilleJN.

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