CHARLESTON – Governor Jim Justice on Friday unveiled a billion dollar strategy to bring broadband availability to 200,000 more homes and businesses in West Virginia. The plan will combine funding from federal, state and local governments, along with matching investments from private sector partners, to accelerate the expansion of broadband internet in underserved areas of the state. The plan represents by far the largest investment in broadband in the history of the state.
The governor’s strategy will add a state broadband program of $ 236 million to $ 362 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission and $ 120 million from other state and federal sources, for a total of $ 718 million. dollars in government funding expected to be allocated by fall 2022. The funds will be allocated through competitive programs that attract matching funds from private sector partners and local governments, generating more than $ 1 billion in funding. dollars of total broadband investment.
The state’s Broadband Office estimates that this combination of resources will expand broadband availability to at least 200,000 new locations in West Virginia. At least 30% of rural homes and businesses in the state currently lack adequate broadband access, leaving West Virginia with one of the lowest broadband connectivity rates in the world, according to FCC data. country. Broadband expansion in West Virginia has been hampered by the cost of expanding networks into mountainous rural areas.
“This is surely a landmark day for West Virginia,” said the governor of justice. âWe have been discussing for years how to solve the rural broadband problem. Now we are finally going to do it.
“Students in West Virginia deserve to be able to do their homework,” continued the governor of justice. âOur seniors deserve to have access to telehealth. Our businesses deserve to be able to reach their customers and suppliers. And all of our residents deserve the ability to interact with their government, stay informed as citizens, and do all of the hundreds of things that require high-speed internet. Starting today, we’re going to make it possible.
“This could not have been done without the hard work and commitment of our Legislative Assembly,” added the Governor of Justice. âThe state’s legislative leaders, including President Blair and President Hanshaw, and all of their members, deserve immense credit for their dedication to extending broadband to all West Virginia. It is an honor to work with them on this issue.
Governor Justice’s broadband strategy focuses on coordinating a diverse set of federal, state, local and private funding sources to maximize broadband expansion. The state has spent more than two years comprehensively mapping broadband access across the state, resulting in a detailed inventory of underserved locations that will allow precise allocation of funds.
The main programs involved in the billion dollar initiative are:
(1) Rural digital opportunity fund: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) provides funding to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to extend service to underserved areas. The program focuses on a reverse auction in which ISPs compete for grants to connect underserved census tracts, with each sector being assigned to the ISP who can connect it with the least amount of federal grants.
Each participating ISP must provide the FCC with a letter of credit for a portion of their grant to ensure that their work is completed. This financial requirement creates a major hurdle for small ISPs. In September 2020, however, the Governor of Justice issued an executive decree, EO 66-20, under which the state provides financial support to ISPs that win RDOF awards, opening the door to significantly expanded RDOF participation in West Virginia.
Thanks to the justice government’s financial commitment, West Virginia now has the highest per capita funding rate in the country at $ 202 per person, for a total of $ 362 million. This RDOF funding will be complemented by private investments from participating ISPs to create an expected minimum RDOF impact of $ 500 million. The program is expected to provide broadband availability to approximately 119,000 homes and businesses over five years.
(2) West Virginia State Broadband Initiative: The second major element of the strategy will be managed by the state’s Office of Broadband and Broadband Council, using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and funding from the state budget. ARPA’s capital projects fund includes $ 136 million for broadband in West Virginia. And – earlier today – the Governor of Justice asked the Special Session of the Legislature for an additional $ 90 million from ARPA’s budget adjustment funds for broadband projects, as well as ‘a $ 10 million credit from state general revenue funds for wireless broadband projects. These sources will provide $ 236 million in combined funding for the state’s competitive broadband projects initiative.
Developed by the Office of Broadband and Broadband Council in collaboration with leading national broadband experts, the state initiative includes four awards programs, each of which will award funds through a competitive application process:
(a) Progress and development of the line extension (LEAD): The LEAD program will provide competitive grants to ISPs to expand existing fiber and cable networks. Applications will be accepted in multiple cycles from November 2021 to January 2022, with funding decisions being made on an ongoing basis until early 2022.
(b) GigReady Initiative: Local governments in West Virginia have received more than $ 500 million from ARPA’s Local Tax Relief Fund, and many intend to invest that money in local broadband expansion. The GigReady initiative will provide matching public funds for local governments that develop projects to pool their broadband investments. Applications will be submitted from November 2021 and funding decisions will be made progressively through early 2022.
(c) Broad Broadband Project Strategies (MBPS): The MBPS program will focus on large-scale multi-country projects that require additional resources to achieve rapid implementation. Applications will be accepted and funding decisions made in multiple cycles from early 2022 to fall 2022.
(d) Wireless Internet Networks (WIN): The WIN program will use $ 10 million of general government revenue to expand and improve existing wireless Internet networks. Wireless networks are a specialized solution useful in remote or sparsely populated areas that are difficult to reach with fiber optic cable. Funding decisions will be made until early 2022.
“Broadband is essential to modern life,” said Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael. âThis comprehensive strategy coordinates a wide variety of funding sources that add to a record investment in high speed Internet. Thanks to the leadership of the Governor of Justice, West Virginia is finally ready to solve another problem that has plagued us for years.