W.Va. Broadband bill passes Senate Government Organization

By Lexi Browning
The West Virginia Press AssociationCHARLESTON, W.Va. — Efforts to expand the reach of broadband services into underserved or unserved areas in the Mountain State passed the Senate Government Organization Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 3093, lead-sponsored by Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, would also reestablish the Broadband Enhancement Council under the Department of Commerce, define the council’s duties, establish the Broadband Enhancement Fund and increase public awareness and education of the service.

In text, the term “unserved” is defined as “a community that has no access to broadband service.”

Delegate Roger Hanshaw

The Broadband Enhancement Council would consist of 13 members, including the Secretary of Commerce, Chief Technology Officer, the Vice Chancellor for technology of the Higher Education Policy Commission, State Superintendent, various rural and business representatives and nine members of the public who will be appointed by the governor.

The council will be responsible for exploring “any and all ways” to expand access to broadband, gathering data for research purposes, encouraging statewide usage and assist in the expansion of “electronic instruction” and “distance education services.”

Additionally, the legislation would create broadband mapping in order to annully record usage statewide and publish results. The council could also create a publicly accessible interactive map online to reflect “downstream data rate and upstream data rate” in any region. It would be done without collecting personal information from the IP address.

“Downstream” data is defined as the “transmission speed from the service provider source to the end-user.” “Upstream” data rate is defined as the “transmission speed from the end-user to the service provider source.”

The text also prohibits Internet providers from advertising downstream and upstream speeds solely by their maximum potential and must instead establish their minimum speeds. “Up to” speed advertisements will be deemed “unfair” and deceptive” and may require a remedy.

Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher spoke in support of the legislation, saying the Commerce Department was “fully supportive” of its initial fundamental values.

“It is critically important to provide every opportunity to get broadband access to those areas that are unserved and underserved,” Thrasher said.

At the end of the day, Thrasher said, his focus was to ensure that everyone had access to broadband regardless of location.

“That takes many different forms, from access poles, to the ability to co-op, to transparency and the network that is out there,” Thrasher said.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, expressed concerns over the pending regulations on pole access, citing the possibility that the section may be deemed unconstitutional in the near future.

“I just hate to see all this work go into this bill and it be declared unconstitutional right off the bat because it has powers that are preempted by the federal government,” Woelfel said. “It’s just a cautionary thing.”

Delegates John Shott, R-Mercer, Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha, Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, and Nancy Foster, R-Putnam, co-sponsored the bill.

H.B. 3093 passed the committee with unanimous support and will be reported to the Senate floor with the recommendation that it pass.

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