West Virginia must prioritize access to broadband

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel 

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — In West Virginia, 30 percent of residents do not have full access to broadband service. That figure goes up to 48 percent in rural areas. While the numbers are an improvement over 2015, they are still unacceptable when it comes to attracting and retaining precisely the kinds of businesses -and people – the Mountain State will need as it transitions its economy for the coming generations.

Imagine being a location scout for a tech company prepared to bring hundreds of jobs to the right kind of new location. You are seeking a place where quality of life for your employees will be high; perhaps away from crowded metropolitan areas and the stress of more urban locations. You are seeking a place where the people are hard-working, intelligent and willing to learn; where you will be welcomed with open arms. And, oh yes, you are seeking a place with the technological infrastructure you will need to establish and grow your competitive business.

Would you choose West Virginia right now?

What about that burgeoning tourism industry officials have been working so hard to develop? Travelers from most of the rest of the country are in search of a place to unplug, certainly … but for only a little while. Eventually, they will want to know they can check in on emails or stream a movie while huddled around the fireplace with their families. There is no doubt West Virginia loses some tourism dollars because travelers have been told they will be out-of-touch for too long if they stay for a while.

Appalachian Regional Commission funding – $10 million per year for five years and a Federal Communications Commission fund to provide or improve broadband access in rural and underserved areas will be helpful, as state officials no doubt will tackle the problem again this year.

They must be careful not to let the private companies involved manipulate the process in a way that will cost taxpayers more money than is justified. But, broadband access must become a priority in West Virginia. For the generation that will decide our future, there is no other way.

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