Op-Ed by Senator Capito: Making progress connecting WV with the world (Daily Mail)

Since my first day in the U.S. Senate, improving broadband access for West Virginians has been one of my top priorities.

Whether you’re a small business owner looking to grow your operations, a teacher wanting to help your students learn in new and innovative ways, or someone who could benefit from telehealth services, broadband is critical in today’s world.

Broadband keeps us connected, helps improve our lives and communities, and can lead to so many new opportunities.

That’s why I launched my Capito Connect Plan in 2015—to provide a roadmap for bringing affordable, high-speed internet access to homes, businesses, and classrooms in West Virginia.

Since launching the plan three years ago, I’m proud to say that our state has come a long way when it comes to connectivity.

One of the three pillars of Capito Connect is fostering collaboration between government and the private sector—an area in which we have seen great improvement recently. The Capito Connect guidebook has helped our communities understand the federal resources available to them and shown West Virginians how they can take advantage of those opportunities.

I’ve also engaged federal partners like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to raise awareness about funding opportunities. And I’ve hosted broadband workshops here at home to help businesses and individuals develop successful programs for funding broadband projects.

The result? More resources for expanding broadband in our state.

Earlier this year, twelve communities across West Virginia received a total of $1.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funding to help them deliver high-speed broadband to residents and businesses.

As a leader on the Appropriations Committee, I have also been able to identify and secure new funding for broadband and strengthen federal programs related to broadband deployment. I actually had the opportunity to serve as chair of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the FCC and to ensure that the focus remained on places like West Virginia.

In fact, in the past year, we have doubled the amount of funds available through programs like USDA’s Community Connect program and created a new $600 million pilot program. We also helped secure a $3 million Community Connect grant for Barbour, Randolph, and Upshur counties, which will provide broadband access for nearly 4,000 residents and employers. These programs are making a difference.

Take Capon Springs and Farms. After years of working with the Capon Springs team and bringing FCC officials to West Virginia to raise awareness of our broadband challenges, the resort was able to reach a solution to their connectivity issue. Now, they will benefit from high-speed internet access, a great example of what we can accomplish through local business initiatives and partnerships.

Of course, as so many West Virginians know, it’s not just about the internet. Capito Connect is also focused on connecting our communities in other ways. As a result, we are seeing results when it comes to cell service, with new cell towers being announced in Paw Paw and Lincoln County.

All of these examples help illustrate that closing the digital divide in West Virginia is a challenging—but achievable. It won’t happen overnight, but our Connect plan has put us on the right track.

From the Capito Connect Listening Tour I led back in 2015 to this year’s “Share Your Stories” initiative, I’ve heard from thousands of West Virginians who have seen the progress being made. Their stories underscore just how important broadband access is to live, learn, and thrive in the 21st century.

That’s why it’s so important that we continue to make this a priority. As we head into another year, I remain more committed than ever to improving broadband access in our state, and I invite all West Virginians to join me in building on the momentum we’ve created.

Together, I know we can better connect our communities and close the digital divide in West Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is a member of the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the committee on Appropriations.

By:  U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
Source: Daily Mail Opinion Page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail