Facebook comes to West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice joined Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Congresswoman Carol Miller, local leaders and representatives from Facebook on Monday morning at Tamarack to ceremonially "break ground" on Facebook's plans to build a 600-mile fiber optic cable from Ohio to Virginia.


The cable will cut through West Virginia for 275 miles. Construction was to begin on Monday in Ashburn, Va., according to statements made Monday by Miller and Kelley Moore, Capito's press secretary. The move will provide the state with enhanced fiber optic connectivity.


During his 2016 campaign, Justice had lamented that West Virginia was ranked "last" or near the bottom in categories involving education, health and economic development. He pointed out Monday morning that the state is now benefiting from Facebook's first North American project. He added that the social media giant's footprint will expand opportunities in education, art and economics in the state. It will also likely help efforts to market and build an aerospace industry in southern West Virginia.


"Think about it – Facebook coming to West Virginia," said Justice. "Coming to West Virginia is their first project.


"All of this will bring us more and more connectivity.


"It's unbelievable. Right here in West Virginia," said the governor. "It's so, so heartwarming and so good."


Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerburg, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, Andrew McCollum and Eduardo Saverin, Facebook was a $512 billion company in May 2019, according to Forbes magazine.


Facebook Director of Network Investments Kevin Salvadori announced in March that Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., would be offering high-capacity fiber-optic routes to sell unused capacity among its data centers in Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina. Salvadori added that Facebook had created Middle Mile Infrastructure, a subsidiary to sell the excess capacity to local and regional providers and other third parties.


“This capacity could provide additional network infrastructure to existing and emerging providers, helping them extend service to many parts of the country, and particularly in underserved rural areas near our long-haul fiber builds," Salvadori wrote on a blog post.


The move is anticipated to boost the economy by interconnecting the fiber optics with other networks or selling or otherwise making capacity available to connecting networks. Capito said Monday that, for security purposes, Facebook officials have not disclosed the exact fiber optic routes.


It was unclear if Facebook, which will be given right-of-way access in the state, would lay the cable in rural southern counties, including Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, MacDowell, Summers, Greenbrier and Mercer. Tamarack was not on the official Facebook route, according to statements by Capito's press secretary.


Construction is expected to last 18 to 24 months, according to data from Capito's office.


During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in April 2018, Capito, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, asked Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a commitment to helping close the digital divide in West Virginia.


“Making sure West Virginia has reliable, high-speed internet has been a priority of mine since I was first elected to Congress,” Capito said. “I’m glad Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg followed through on his commitment he made to me during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, where I asked him to partner with West Virginia on rural fiber deployment.


"Builds like this are extremely important for our rural areas, because they provide these communities with the capacity to offer truly high-speed internet service," she said.  "I’m excited for what a fully connected West Virginia can offer the rest of the country, as well as what it can do for the future of our state.


"Today’s groundbreaking brings us another step closer to achieving that goal.”


In February, Capito and global technology company Infor announced plans to open a new office in Charleston, bringing potentially 100 new tech jobs to the state.


In 2015, Capito launched her Capito Connect plan, which includes helping communities with accessing federal resources to build out broadband networks.


Raleigh County Commissioner Ron Hedrick told residents to think of the Facebook fiber optic as another "transportation system," similar to a major highway built by the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Eventually, local roads are built to connect to that road, generating development.


He said Facebook's construction is optimal to support a burgeoning aerospace industry in Raleigh and Greenbrier counties.


"It will make it a whole lot easier to attract businesses to the county," said Hedrick. "It's kind of like when cable came through for TV.


"Once you got the main line through, everybody could branch off of that. It's like going from the old rabbit ears to cable, when it comes to internet.


"It's faster broadband. It will also expand it to bigger broadband."


Kelley Moore, Capito's press secretary, said that, while it was unknown Monday whether Facebook's 275 miles inside the state would include southern West Virginia, the entire state will benefit.


"It is accurate that the southern West Virginia region will benefit from this build," Moore stated in an email. "Specifically, this project will make it possible for broadband providers to expand middle-mile networks into communities along the route, establishing West Virginia as a preferred route for fiber backbone construction.


"Builds like this are incredibly important for our rural communities — like those in southern West Virginia — because they give communities the capacity to offer truly high-speed internet service," Moore added. "And as we’ve seen, the benefits of high-speed internet access are far reaching — allowing businesses more flexibility, the option to expand and offer their services to more people, grow their audience, and gain exposure."


Although West Virginia received one of the largest grants in the country ($126 million in stimulus funds) in 2010 to build broadband service during the Obama administration, including $42 million for a fiber cable network, it lags behind other states in broadband development, particularly in rural parts of West Virginia.


The Gazette-Mail reported in October 2017 that the state entered a contract with Frontier Communications to expand high-speed internet and then overpaid Frontier $4.7 million in stimulus funds in 2016, after Frontier allegedly padded hundreds of invoices with extra charges.


The state paid back the $4.7 million following a 2017 order by the U.S. Commerce Department to return to the federal agency the misspent funds paid to Frontier.


The same report also alleges that Frontier abandoned 49 miles of unused fiber cable at public buildings across the state and then disclosed only about a fourth of the unused cable to state officials.


Frontier has denied all of the allegations and audit findings, despite strong criticism from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was governor when the funds were awarded, and similar allegations made by Florida officials.


Earlier this month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced that he would intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by the Bridgeport-based company Citynet against Frontier. Morrissey said he will seek to recoup West Virginia's $4.7 million in losses for Frontier's mistakes.


Forbes this year ranked Facebook as one of the World's Best Employers (#144), one of the Best Employers for Women (#259) and one of the Best Employers for New Graduates (#2019).


After pressure in 2018 from the Food and Drug Administration, Facebook began policing illicit drug sales and redirecting users in search of opioids to a federal help line.


Zuckerberg, the company's CEO, was recently fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for privacy violations by the company. Facebook is also being investigated for antitrust regulation violations in nearly every state and Europe, according to Forbes, and is facing a multitude of U.S. lawsuits involving allegations of sex traffickers' use of the platform.


Manchin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has advocated for West Virginia's broadband expansion. On Monday, he applauded Facebook's new presence in the state.


“While I am disappointed that Facebook did not choose West Virginia as a site for one of their new data centers, I’ve continued to meet with Facebook about the issues we face in rural America, like access to the reliable broadband all West Virginians deserve and the sale of illegal drugs like opioids on Facebook’s platforms," Manchin said. "As a member of the Appropriations committee, I have advocated for West Virginia to receive more funding for broadband so that we can build on recent investments by the tech industry in the state.


"Over the past several years, technology companies have begun to realize the importance of investing in West Virginia, which is why I recently convened a meeting between Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-Chair Tim Thomas and tech companies in the state to underscore this growing sector of the state’s economy," he added.

By:  Jessicah Farrish
Source: Beckley Register-Herald