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W.Va. broadband panel to get new duties, no funds

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A governor-appointed panel charged with expanding high-speed Internet in West Virginia is getting a new name, members and duties – but no money for projects.

Last week, state lawmakers passed a bill (SB488) to establish the Broadband Enhancement Council, a replacement for the former Broadband Deployment Council, which folded Dec. 31.

The biggest change: The new council won’t include representatives of Internet providers, such as Frontier Communications, Suddenlink and Citynet. Instead, most members will represent businesses and consumers who subscribe to Internet services.

“In the past, there were definitely turf wars [among Internet providers],” said Natalie Roper, who heads Generation West Virginia, a group that pushed for the bill. “We’re shifting the conversation to how do we provide the best broadband access, instead of having a conversation about how do we make the most money.”

Then-Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator, established the Broadband Deployment Council in 2009. State lawmakers allocated $5 million to the group, which spent the money on consultants and wireless Internet projects in rural areas.

The new legislation, which Tomblin is expected to sign into law, creates a “broadband enhancement fund,” but state lawmakers didn’t set aside any money for the fund…

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