Bill Aims To Improve Access To Internet

CHARLESTON — A broadband bill that aims to improve access through the state overwhelmingly passed through the West Virginia Senate Friday.

House Bill 3093 establishes broadband enhancement and expansion policies, establishing the Broadband Enhancement Council and revising its powers and duties.

The council would publish an annual assessment and map of broadband in the state and create an interactive map of broadband service.

It also calls for counties to form non-profit cooperative associations for internet services.

The bill’s goal is by 2020 to make every community and rural area in the state accessible to internet services.

Senators adopted an amendment Friday that would eliminate within the code that it is unlawful for internet services to advertise data solely in terms of maximum data rates or an “up to speed.” That provision was removed to require providers to only advertise the minimum data rate to be provided as part of any service.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, was the sole vote against the bill. He is concerned about bank underwriting and whether there is enough risk to incentivize them into making a good loan.

“It scares me because of the incentive to make a good loan because if they can’t lose anything, they may want to get insurance and build up their income,” he said. “Here, the bank doesn’t have any incentive because it’s a loan that gets repaid. That is the flaw in this bill.”

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said the Economic Development Authority approves the loan and there are checks and balances.

“We are trying to encourage a build-out in the state,” he said. “That’s the risk the state is taking for people of West Virginia in underserved or unserved areas.”

The bill now heads over to the House to concur.