Daily Mail Editorial: Lack of Broadband Leaves State Behind

For many West Virginians, access to high-speed Internet is a pipe dream.

Many areas of the state are without the high-speed Internet connection necessary to email, conduct business or access streaming services like Netflix.

The Federal Communications Commission has defined high-speed Internet as 25 megabits per second, but the connection speeds in many West Virginia homes fall far below those standards.

“According to that new definition, West Virginia ranks 47th in the nation for overall broadband access,” Zack Harold reported for the November/December issue of West Virginia Focus. “More than half of the state’s residents do not have access to broadband Internet. Only Arkansas, Vermont and Montana rank worse.”

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels have declared high-speed Internet a priority. Senator Shelley Moore Capito has called on the FCC to consider strict enforcement measures and increased transparency for recently announced funding meant to connect rural areas to broadband.

State Senator Chris Walters, R-Putnam, introduced a bill last year to construct a new 2,500-mile fiber network that would connect statewide. Internet service providers would lease access to this so-called middle mile network and the proceeds would be used to cover construction costs and upkeep of the line, Harold reports.

Walters’ bill ultimately failed, but he has vowed to reintroduce it next year.

Why the push for broadband Internet? Many lawmakers believe not having that high-speed connection is a barrier to business growth. As more business is conducted online, having a slow connection — or no connection at all — means some businesses can’t even get off the ground.

“You can’t transition if you don’t have this tool,” Capito said. “Everyone wants sewer, water and transportation, but if you don’t have the ability to transmit designs if you’re an engineer, or transmit photographs if you’re a photographer, you’re really hemmed in.”

West Virginia’s geography and pockets of rural populations make it hard for Internet service providers to justify the expense of connecting those homes to the network. That’s understandable, and businesses like Frontier have to keep in mind their bottom lines.

But West Virginia can’t — and shouldn’t — get left behind. Our residents, students and businesses deserve the same connectivity their peers across the country experience.

Kudos to Capito, Walters and others for advocating this important issue on behalf of West Virginians.

Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail