West Virginia scales back broadband expansion

Last year, West Virginia received $126 million in federal stimulus grant money to expand broadband statewide. However, state officials may be scaling back the project resulting in unspent funds. At the same time, the state’s broadband map still lacks critical data about broadband access.

According to a piece in the Charleston Gazette, when the state originally applied for broadband funds they sought to lay 2,400 miles of fiber throughout West Virginia. But now, state officials are scaling those estimates back significantly and may reduce them even more. In the state’s original grant application, officials planned to bring broadband to anchor institutions including public schools, libraries and hospitals. However, the state has since discovered that many of the institutions originally listed already have high-speed broadband connections.

Now, after additional research other departments are identifying other public institutions and offices that are lacking access but the state will have to submit the updated list to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is administering the grant.

The state’s broadband map is also missing data detailing existing broadband service throughout the state according to the West Virginia Broadband Council. Members of the council are working with providers to get more information into the map so that the public can have an accurate side-by-side comparison of rates and speeds currently offered in their community.

Critics of the state’s broadband efforts see these issues as fuel for their opposition, citing a lack of due diligence in the original grant application and are pushing for the addition of a middle-mile network. However, planners claim that the project is still in flux and needs time to more fully develop.

The state is tracking its progress online at http://www.recovery.wv.gov.

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