History of broadband in West Virginia, next steps planned for $1.2 billion in broadband funding

$1.2 billion in funding was granted through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration administers the program, and it was established by a provision authored by Senator Joe Manchin.

The state will now submit a plan for the funds, which the federal government must approve. The plan can be submitted as early as July 1.

In a joint press call on Monday, Manchin and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stressed that the broadband internet will be affordable.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to approve these plans unless we’re convinced that it’s affordable as well as accessible,” Raimondo said.

Manchin agreed.

“There’s no reason on earth why anyone should be paying these extraordinary prices or getting gouged whatsoever. And if that happens, we’re going to see it on the front end. And if not, we’ll catch it on the back end. They’re not going to be paying exorbitant prices at all,” he said.

The funding comes after years of work to accurately assess the need for broadband expansion in the state. An updated FCC map released in May showed 86,000 new, underserved locations in the state. 

The new funds were granted thanks in part to the updates to the FCC map that shows broadband connectivity. The updated map showed that only Alaska has worse internet connectivity than West Virginia does.

All told, there are approximately 300,000 West Virginians who do not have sufficient broadband coverage. According to Raimondo, these funds will impact every single one of those people.

Manchin compared broadband expansion to the expansion of access to electricity in rural areas a century ago.

“I look back in history on things that changed people’s lives. I heard my grandparents talk about the rural electrification back in the thirties after Roosevelt got elected. We only had maybe ten or 15% of West Virginia with electricity because we were so rural,” Manchin said. “With that rural electrification, it changed people’s lives. It really did. The same thing is going to happen with this. And that’s what we fought so hard.”

It has been a seven-year process for Manchin’s office.

“We started working in October of 2016. I took then-Chairman Tom Wheeler of the FCC. Tom was telling me that 99% year of the state has coverage,” Manchin said. “I said, those aren’t accurate. And I said, ‘Why don’t you come and visit me in Pocahontas County or come over into the mountains of West Virginia?’ So we were over there one day and we were at a vocational school. And I said, Tom, why don’t you call your secretary back home, see if you have any messages and you can use any service you want. He tried all different phones and couldn’t get out.”

From there, Manchin’s office asked people across the state to submit speed tests, as a way to show that the current FCC map was not accurate. According to his office, more than 2,400 people responded.

Now, almost seven years later, Manchin feels that the work has begun paying off.

“It’s come to fruition, full fruition now. The maps being accurate, you all enforcing the maps, making sure that we got them out. And now we’re able to come back home to West Virginia and say we will now be able to compete anywhere in West Virginia with anybody in the world.”

Senator Shelley Moore Capito also released a statement regarding the broadband funding, calling it a “major breakthrough.”

“This funding, which is the largest amount of broadband funding awarded to the state to date, will assist in our efforts to provide communities with the resources they need to improve connectivity overall. We are on the cusp of a major breakthrough – one that I am committed to seeing though,” Capito said.

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