By March 21, 2017 Read More →

Sen. Smith supports new rural broadband bill, Legislation as written would promote more competition

By THERESA MARTHEY

The Preston County News & Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The lack of broadband in rural areas of West Virginia has been a concern for several years. The state Senate has taken up a bill that would address the lack of broadband in those areas.

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, is backing a bill introduced by Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, allowing local economic development authorities to back loans to small, rural broadband companies.
(WV Legislature photo)

“Senate Bill 614 (SB614) will permit the local economic development agencies to back loans for these smaller companies that want to bring broadband into underserved areas,” Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said. “This bill also stresses these companies cannot get loans for building their service in areas that are already over served.

“West Virginia has a huge area of underserved rural areas when it comes to broadband,” Smith said.

Smith used the city of Kingwood as an example saying there are already pretty good broadband services in Kingwood.

“This bill would not permit a loan to be used to offer additional broadband services in Kingwood,” Smith said. “However, that doesn’t mean that a company could not get a loan to build a line through the city in order to offer broadband to areas outside Kingwood.”

Smith said loans of up to $10 million per company and up to $50 million total would be available for the companies.

“This would really help the smaller companies like Prodigy in Preston County to expand their services,” Smith said. “Look at what Prodigy has been able to do with $2 million in expanding their service from Bruceton Mills to Kingwood.”

Smith said there is also a bill coming out of the House of Delegates that will help smaller companies get right of way permission from utilities companies to put their lines on the utilities poles.

“Some companies take up to two years to give permission that right of way permission to use their utilities poles for line connections,” Smith said. “This bill helps to cut down the paperwork process to a reasonable amount of time.”

Smith also said that he is working on a bill with Senator Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, to repeal the tax credit on the windmills in the state.

“The windmills have had tax credits for 16 years and are only assessed at 5 percent of their salvage value,” Smith said. “It takes money away from the counties.”

Smith said the windmills have only created 14 jobs, and the power created is sold to Virginia and Maryland.

“The companies sell all energy and credits to Virginia and Maryland,” Smith said. “And we get nothing. Even when the windmills are being constructed, the companies bring in people from outside West Virginia because it is a specialty to construct them.”

“This is money the Boards of Education and county commissions could use,” Smith said. “It is about $8 million a year.”

Smith also said the budget has been introduced, and it is being gone through item by item.

“We will do our best to agree on a budget,” Smith said. “One thing I agree with is, there needs to be money for our roads.”

“I believe everyone in Preston County agrees that the roads in the county need to be maintained,” Smith said. “We need to make sure the funding is distributed fairly, and that is one thing I am going to make sure is addressed in the budget.”

Preston County has the highest number of secondary roads in the state, and the majority of residents travel on those routes.

“We have all the secondary roads, and we are paying for it,” Smith said. “It is only fair we get our fair share of the funding.”

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