During a couple of unannounced stops in Hampshire County Monday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito raised hopes for better broadband here and reviewed progress on the county’s biggest infrastructure issue.
It was her first public appearance following 2 weeks of quarantine — and a negative test — for COVID-19 after she was exposed to a staffer who had the highly contagious virus.
“I was so happy when I tested negative,” the Charleston Republican said. “It’s like a cat out of the bag.”
The stops in Romney and Capon Bridge allowed Capito to see the results of work done to bring faster broadband to the county’s 2 population centers.
In Romney, town and county officials toured her through the downtown sidewalk improvements, talking about how they had used the projects to lay conduit for fiber-optic lines.
In Capon Bridge she got to check out work done with a Rural Development grant laying fiber-optic there and she talked with executives at S.J. Morse on how technology upgrades were affecting that business.
And in Romney, she told Review editors that changes she has championed in the Senate are going to open the Mountain State and Hampshire County to better broadband service.
“We’ve made incremental advances with USDA grants we’ve worked with,” she noted.
That includes the one that has allowed Hardy Telecom to start selling fiber-optic service in Capon Bridge and another that will let the same company run service from Wardensville up Route 259 and then up Christian Church Road to bring service to 600 more homes and businesses.
But, she said, “We’ve got to keep pushing the money out.”
A new round of funding will send $700 million into West Virginia.
And the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to auction off unserved areas to local providers.
“Hopefully some of that is going to be Hampshire County,” the senator said.
She pointed to a change in mapping — how unserved and under-served areas are identified. Under the old rules, if a provider could show that it delivered service to anywhere in a census tract (Hampshire has 5 of them), then the whole area was considered served.
“The mapping used to be self-reporting,” Capito explained. “They would say you are served; in reality, your service is so poor you’re not really being served.”
A law signed in March changes the mapping from census tracts to shape files.
“It’s going to be so granular,” Capito said. “We’ve just got to drive the service to the last house.”