Editorial: Broadband Access Fix Requires More Than Just Talk

Much like other shortcomings that hinder West Virginia’s economic development opportunities, the lack of broadband internet access, especially in rural areas, is often talked about in the Mountain State.

That was on full display Monday, when U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., held two roundtable discussions along with Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

The first, in Morgantown, focused mainly on the importance of broadband in rural states. From that discussion, with eight professors, students and others, came some interesting dialogue.

“Our challenge is how do we prevent rural America from becoming digital deserts,” said Dr. John Campbell, associate provost of information technology and chief technology officer.

“If we don’t address some of these digital deserts, the next generation of workforce is going to be left behind.”

The argument could be made that we’re already falling far behind, with some studies indicating the state is no better than 45th in broadband access, with at least 28 percent of the state’s population underserved, according to BroadbandNow, a monitoring service.

As NCWV Media’s John Dahlia, who serves as editor of the Fairmont News and Preston News & Journal, reported for The Exponent Telegram, both Capito and Clyburn said keeping awareness of the issue on the minds of lawmakers is important. They believe government must lead the way, with possible partnerships with the private sector.

The importance of internet access in varied aspects of life became more apparent when Capito and Clyburn moved to the second roundtable in Kingwood, which focused on using technology to improve rural healthcare.

Preston Memorial Hospital officials shared how the lack of broadband in some areas that they serve has hindered aspects of medical care, like electronic record keeping.

Record keeping is obviously a vital part of the health care system, providing continuity of treatment and essential information to providers.

The overwhelming message from both roundtables is that more collaborative effort is needed to improve broadband access. Capito said several times throughout the day that she will continue efforts to improve internet access.

“I’m an appropriator, so I want to help (Commissioner Clyburn) deliver the regulatory framework that we can have this grow and she’s helping me to understand that West Virginia is not alone,” Capito told The Exponent Telegram.

Clyburn said she will continue to push for innovative solutions to providing broadband to rural areas, saying that while it is a costly venture, it is a necessary one.

“If we do not invest in our technology infrastructure and our broadband, then the price in the end will be too high. We cannot afford to leave our communities behind.”

By:  John Miller
Source: The Exponent Telegram