WV Executives Announce Billion-Dollar Broadband Plan to Provide Internet Service to 200,000 Additional Homes and Businesses

CHARLESTON, West Virginia – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Friday announced a billion-dollar strategy that he says will bring broadband availability to 200,000 more homes and businesses in West Virginia. “We are going to change the course of West Virginia,” Justice said.

The plan will combine funding from federal, state and local governments, as well as matching investments from private sector partners, “to accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet in underserved areas of the state,” said a Press release.

The strategy will add a state broadband program of $ 236 million to $ 362 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission and $ 120 million from other state and federal sources, for a total of $ 718 million in funding. government which should be allocated by the fall of 2022, according to the press release. The funds will also attract matching funds from private sector partners and local governments, bringing the total to more than $ 1 billion in total broadband investments.

The plan is described as “the biggest investment in broadband in the history of the state”. West Virginia now receives the most FCC dollars per capita for broadband of any state, to the tune of $ 202 per capita, Justice said. “This is surely a landmark day for West Virginia,” said the governor of justice. “We have been discussing for years how to solve the rural broadband problem. Now we are finally going to do it.

The main programs involved in the plan are:

1 – Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) provides funding to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to extend service to underserved areas. The program focuses on a reverse auction in which ISPs compete for grants to connect underserved census tracts, with each sector assigned to the ISP who can connect it with the least amount of federal grants.

This RDOF funding will be complemented by private investments from participating ISPs to create an expected minimum RDOF impact of $ 500 million. The program is expected to provide broadband availability to approximately 119,000 homes and businesses over five years.

2 – West Virginia State Broadband Initiative: The second major component of the strategy will be managed by the state’s Office of Broadband and Broadband Council, using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and funding from the budget of the State. ARPA’s capital projects fund includes $ 136 million for broadband in West Virginia.

Justice on Friday placed an additional $ 90 million credit from ARPA’s tax recovery funds for broadband projects, as well as a $ 10 million credit from state general revenue funds for wireless broadband projects, during the special session of the Legislative Assembly.

The state initiative includes four awards programs, each of which will allocate funds through a competitive application process:

  • Advancement and Development of Line Extension (LEAD): The LEAD program will provide competitive grants to ISPs to extend existing fiber and cable networks. Applications will be accepted in multiple cycles from November 2021 to January 2022, with funding decisions being made on an ongoing basis until early 2022.
  • GigReady Initiative: West Virginia local governments have received more than $ 500 million from ARPA’s Local Tax Clawback Fund, and many of them intend to invest that money in expanding the top local flow. The GigReady initiative will provide matching public funds for local governments that develop projects to pool their broadband investments. Applications will be submitted from November 2021 and funding decisions will be made progressively through early 2022.
  • Main Broadband Project Strategies (MBPS): The MBPS program will focus on large-scale multi-country projects that require additional resources for rapid implementation. Applications will be accepted and funding decisions made in multiple cycles from early 2022 to fall 2022.
  • Wireless Internet Networks (WIN): The WIN program will use $ 10 million of state general revenue funds to expand and improve existing wireless Internet networks. Wireless networks are a specialized solution useful in remote or sparsely populated areas that are difficult to reach with fiber optic cable. Funding decisions will be made until early 2022.

Participating ISPs will need to include a low-cost level of service affordable to low-income West Virginia.

3 – Other Federal and State Funding Sources: Other existing sources of funding, primarily federal, are expected to contribute at least $ 120 million to the development of broadband in West Virginia over the next five years. These include the Federal Communications Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The National Broadband Office and the Broadband Council will coordinate with these programs to ensure that public funds are allocated efficiently and that maximum broadband coverage is achieved.

Friday’s announcement included comments from US Senator Joe Manchin and US Representatives David McKinley and Carol Miller, as well as AARP and Health officials.

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