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Senate panel OKs bill to expand broadband

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Although opposed by some Internet providers in the state, a bill that would put broadband service on par with other government- regulated utilities passed out of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, the committee’s chair, the bill would authorize the state to build “middle mile” broadband infrastructure in every county in the state. Walter said Tuesday the bill would benefit rural areas where for-profit companies find it economically problematic to build broadband networks.

 His plan is to have the state build a 2,600-mile loop of fiber-optic network at a cost of $78 million, then have private companies use off-ramps from that “middle mile” for “last mile Internet service to homes and businesses.

Walters cited a study from West Virginia State University that says the return on investment will be 4,000 permanent jobs and a total increase to the state’s gross domestic product of more than $900 million.

“For West Virginia, the establishment of a fiber network will create an environment and opportunities for businesses to compete nationally and internationally while operating in some cases from rural and semi-rural communities,” the WVSU study says.

Walters’ bill would authorize Morgantown-based WVNET to build the network.

The WVSU study says the economic impact of the construction alone will be more than $190 million, with job creation numbers that total 1,234…


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