West Virginia has $1.2 billion from the federal government for high-speed Internet expansion, but it won’t be established by magic.
The state still needs to pass a series of deadlines and oversight procedures to make sure broadband rollout is running efficiently and smoothly.
“That’s a lot of money, and it’s a huge responsibility and we take it very seriously,” said Kelly Workman, director of the West Virginia Broadband Office.
Over the next month, West Virginia will unveil a five-year action plan that includes details on workforce development and digital equity. This leads to an initial proposal to the US Department of Commerce.
“It’s huge,” Kelly Workman said, estimating the proposal could be ready by the end of this year.
Federal officials this week announced state awards for a $42.5 billion Internet expansion plan across the country, calling it historic. The money comes through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed into President Biden in 2021.
West Virginia is among 19 states receiving more than $1 billion in funding. The large amount is because West Virginia was able to demonstrate, through mapping, its high rate of underserved and underserved locations.
The implementation will also work using destination address maps, Workman said.
“Every address location in the state of West Virginia is on a map if it’s blue, it’s served if it’s yellow, it’s not served. And so, as we go through our grant application process, companies in West Virginia or neighboring states that want to expand into West Virginia will submit proposals to serve those and serve the target addresses,” he said on MetroNews’ Talkline.
West Virginia will follow a pattern that has already been established through previous American Rescue Act funding: Accepting applications, reviewing them for financial, technical, and community impact scores.
“The best projects are selected. And those projects are subject to a grant agreement for a specific scope of work to reach a specific number of locations,” Workman said.
West Virginia is expected to receive 20 percent of its total endowment in 2024.
“Once projects are shortlisted and under contract and have passed the planning and permitting stage, they can begin construction,” Workman said, noting that the total construction time runs through 2029.
The safeguards include a specific scope of work in specific areas for the companies under contract. Regular progress meetings, financial reviews and field checks are intended to help identify any problems early.
“We don’t wait until the end to find out that something didn’t go as planned,” said Workman. “I would say we keep tabs on the projects; we never take our eyes off them.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo appeared in a streamed press conference with Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and said the Internet opportunity is historic. You also hinted at provisions intended to ensure that momentum picks up.
With this money, your $1.2 billion, to connect about 300,000 people in West Virginia, that’s a lot of money to get to everyone, Raimando said in the briefing.
And we mean the small farm or household at the end of a long road in rural West Virginia because we’re going to be subsidizing companies to make that infrastructure investment. And then we will hold them accountable for providing the Internet at the price a family can afford.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., also placed emphasis on making sure the opportunity isn’t wasted.
“The good news is that we will have a lot of money. The bad news is we’re falling behind,” Capito said this week on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio.
“So this will be able to connect that last house, that last location. We will have many responsibilities here working with the Broadband Enhancement Council. They’ve done a great job at the state level to be ready for this.”
Capito also outlined an affordable connectivity plan for families who are financially limited.
“It basically says that every Internet service provider must present a plan that the FCC considers adequate, good service, and can only charge $30,” he said.
“And for the people who qualify for it, they would get $30 as a subsidy so they could afford the plan. So that’s part of that too. And this is an essential part. Because we don’t want the excuse to be ‘I can’t afford it, it has to be affordable and it has to be accessible’”.
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