By: U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
Word Count: 753
Reliable broadband connection is something that impacts nearly all aspects of our daily lives. Think about it. We rely on internet connectivity to communicate with our family and friends, to access emergency services, to obtain information, to bank, and to conduct business. Also, as we experienced first-hand during the pandemic, internet is an essential aspect of our participation in the workforce and the education of our children.
Connectivity has been a challenge for West Virginia. Being the only state entirely encompassed in Appalachia and recognized across the world for our mountainous terrain, our topography has dealt us a challenging hand when it comes to adopting needed advancements to connect to the internet.
Since coming to the Senate in 2015, I have made getting more West Virginians broadband access a top priority, which ultimately led to the launch of my Capito Connect plan. Since then, we have made great strides when it comes to connectivity in our state. Additionally, my Capito Connect plan has created the platform to facilitate conversations with people all across West Virginia about the connectivity issues they face, and the urgent need for reliable broadband access.
The good news is that West Virginia is set to receive the largest broadband funding investment to date. Specifically, the state will receive more than $1.2 billion through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to deploy high-speed internet networks based on need. The BEAD program, and the funding for it, was something I advocated for as I negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure law.
There are more than 271,000 locations in West Virginia that do not have reliable broadband access right now. This funding will go towards getting these homes and businesses connected.
As I mentioned, this funding announcement marks the largest pot of broadband money the state has been awarded, which means we have a real opportunity to finally bridge the digital divide in West Virginia. In fact, it is more than three times the size of the next largest broadband federal funding allocation that I worked to secure through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – otherwise known as RDOF – back in 2020.
We are currently in a critical moment and one that we must take advantage of.
Recently, I had the chance to speak to some of our top high school seniors in West Virginia. It was clear in talking to some of them that our best and brightest are unlikely to stay in our state without reliable broadband. The lack of internet connectivity will impact how they join the workforce, further their education, or perform the tasks of everyday living that have become more dependent on broadband. It is clear that the time to act is now, and I am confident in our ability to rise to the occasion in the face of this challenge.
But another big component of this funding announcement is the accuracy of mapping data, which is something I’ve worked diligently on for years. Specifically, I’ve raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the past inaccuracies in their broadband maps, which is especially important because broadband funding through the bipartisan infrastructure law is directly tied to the maps.
Without accurate maps, communities that lack access—like many of those in our state—ran the risk of being overlooked when it came to the funding distribution. That’s why Congress tasked the FCC to develop a National Broadband Map to determine where the unserved and underserved communities were located. With accurate data, we could then work to distribute need-based funding through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The first map, which was made public last November, was inadequate because it failed to properly account for the connectivity needs in our state. Well, this is something that we took personally in West Virginia. Over 86,000 challenges were accepted to the National Broadband Map in our state, and West Virginia became one of the top 10 most improved states in the updated version of the map.
While this funding has been allocated, we must now ensure that it is not wasted. Sadly, we have seen this happen in the past and it has contributed to where we find ourselves today. West Virginians have been persistent and diligent throughout this process, and they can always expect the same from me as I continue my efforts to deliver the broadband capabilities those in West Virginia deserve.
I firmly believe we are on the cusp of a major breakthrough, and I look forward to seeing a connected West Virginia as a result.
# # #
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and also serves on the Appropriations and Commerce committees.