West Virginia lags behind most states in a variety of economic opportunity indicators. Among the most critical is availability of high-speed internet access.
Our state ranks 45th on a list of 56 states and territories examined by the federal government for broadband access. It is available to only about two-thirds of the state, according to one study. Another study estimates as many as 56 percent of Mountain State residents lack adequate broadband service.
Given our terrain, it simply is not practical to extend line-based broadband service to every place in West Virginia. But clearly, it is feasible to close the gap between us and other states substantially.
Doing so will be critical if we are to diversify our economy — an absolute necessity in a state too long reliant on natural resources extraction for both jobs and government revenue.
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to do something about federal regulations that have crushed our coal industry and hamstrung natural gas developers. If Trump does that and nothing more for West Virginia, he will have done us little good, however.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is urging Trump to go the extra mile. In a letter she sent him, she pointed to his proposal for a massive national infrastructure improvement program.
It should include extending broadband access in the many states where coverage in rural areas is a challenge, Capito is suggesting to Trump. That category includes West Virginia, of course.
“No other technology has become such a platform for innovation, competition and economic growth,” Capito pointed out in her letter.
“West Virginia needs to grow and diversify its overall economy, and internet access is fundamental to that transition,” the senator added.
Precisely. Whatever mechanism is chosen to accomplish the task — whether through a major infrastructure program or a smaller, more specialized initiative — Trump should recognize the wisdom in Capito’s letter and act on it.