Broadband in the hills and hollows of West Virginia

West Virginia is a mountainous state with a lot of isolated individuals and communities. And that makes it harder to bring broadband to all its residents, which is today a hardship.

“It's a necessity. A county without any internet capacity in modern America is a lost county for the future,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), guest speaker at the 2013 West Virginia Broadband Summit in Morgantown.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel echoed Rockefeller’s sentiments. “Here's the thing about West Virginia,” said Rosenworcel, “it’s absolutely beautiful in these hills, but they’re cruel when it comes to the deployment of infrastructure. It takes some extra effort to make sure that the majesty of the state gets covered by things like wireless service and high speed wireline service.”

Potential broadband access has grown in the past four years from 72 percent to an estimated 91 percent. But that's at very slow speeds. Only about half the state has broadband connections at the FCC's benchmark speed of 4 Mbps down/1 Mbps upstream. Because West Virginia has a large low-income population, the percentage actually using broadband is considerably less – only about 60 percent. And, bringing broadband everywhere will require public dollars, Senator Rockefeller emphasized.

Panelists from the industry touted efforts and cited challenges. Frontier Communications has invested $360 million of its own money, according to VP Kathleen Quinn Abernathy, and the company has connected 1,000-plus schools, libraries, and other anchor institutions under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) federal grant.”

Commissioner Rosenworcel highlighted the importance of the federal E-rate program of in connecting schools and libraries to the Internet. Now it's time for E-Rate 2.0 to increase the capacity of those connections to 100 Mbps in the near future and 1 gig to every school by the end of the decade.

Speed Matters urges that the private sector and the state and federal governments increase investment and bring not just broadband, but high-speed broadband to every person and institution in the country.

Upgrades topic at broadband summit (The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va., Nov. 5, 2013)
 
West Virginia Broadband Summit Focuses On Getting People Online (WDTV, Nov. 4, 2013)