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Reworked broadband bill is segmented approach

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the face of fierce opposition from Frontier Communications and cable companies, state lawmakers have scrapped plans to build a 2,500-mile high-speed Internet network all at once in West Virginia and instead seek to construct the fiber network in segments.

State senators backed away from proposed legislation last week that would have created a $72 million state-funded network designed to bring Internet to rural communities. Lobbyists representing large Internet providers complained that the project would duplicate existing networks.

A completely reworked version of the bill (SB 315) would allow Internet companies to request grant and bond money to build individual fiber segments, provided the firms can show they could sign up a sufficient number of customers and have viable plans to retire their debt.

“It’s a more intelligent way to do it, instead of putting us on the hook for 2,500 miles without commitments from providers to pay for it,” said Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam. “It will really help companies get bonds and grants easier to expand fiber in West Virginia.”

The scaled-back plan comes on the heels of a Federal Communication Commission report that ranks West Virginia 48th in the nation when it comes to people having access to high-speed broadband Internet service…

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