FCC Allocates $12M to Boost Broadband in West Virginia

The funds will be divided between three Internet service providers with the goal of expanding access to more than 7,900 locations.

by Max Garland, The Charleston Gazette / August 29, 2018
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(TNS) — Three Internet companies will receive about $12 million combined in federal funding to provide broadband access to West Virginia communities lacking it.

Funding from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction will go toward expanding Internet access in 7,962 locations, sorted by census blocks, throughout West Virginia, the agency announced Tuesday.

The purpose of the funding — $11,997,199 for work in West Virginia that’s dispersed over a 10-year period — is to provide quality Internet access to rural areas that providers wouldn’t normally enter because of cost, according to the FCC. The auction, which wrapped up earlier this month, began July 24.

California-based Viasat will be funded by $5.43 million from the FCC for work in West Virginia. The company, which uses satellite broadband technology, has been assigned 7,057 locations in West Virginia covering dozens of its 55 counties. Calhoun, Clay, Marshall and Wetzel counties, however, have more locations than most assigned to receive broadband access from Viasat.

Viasat’s West Virginia service is in the “baseline performance tier,” or download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, the FCC’s minimum standard for broadband Internet service.

About $122.5 million in total funding has been allocated to Viasat for work in 20 states, making it one of the auction’s biggest beneficiaries.

Chris Phillips, Viasat’s director of public relations, said the company is not yet able to comment on the matter.

Bridgeport-based Citynet will be allocated $6.51 million from the FCC for work in 898 locations in Greenbrier, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Taylor and Webster counties.

“These funds, accompanied with our own private investment, will result in broadband being delivered at gigabit speeds to some of the most remote and rural areas in the state,” said Chris Morris, Citynet’s senior vice president of business development and external affairs, in a statement. “We look forward to completing the FCC review process so that we can get started building fiber into these areas.”

Hardy County-based Hardy Telecommunications will receive $47,435 to build a gigabit-speed connection in Hampshire County. The company said in July that it was eyeing a few census blocks in the Rio area of southern Hampshire County for its fiber network.

The speed of Citynet and Hardy Telecommunications’ service funded through the auction is in the “gigabit performance tier.” That means Internet download speeds of at least one gigabit, the highest performance tier in the auction.

Nationwide, about $1.49 billion out of an available $1.98 billion has been allocated to 103 providers total through the auction, the FCC announced Tuesday. According to the agency, 713,176 locations throughout the country will be served with high-speed Internet access as a result of the funding.

The FCC says winning bidders must provide long-form applications to the agency that further detail their plans on how they will use the money. Once a winning bidder’s long-form application is approved, they will be authorized to start getting the funding.

The FCC is tasking the winning providers to build out 40 percent of assigned locations within three years of receiving their funding, with buildout completed by the end of the sixth year of funding.

The Connect America Fund’s first phase provided more than $9 billion to 10 large providers to expand Internet access in rural areas. Frontier Communications was one of the providers selected in that phase and said it expects to bring broadband to more than 89,000 households in high-cost areas of West Virginia by the end of 2020 with the FCC’s help.

Frontier did not receive any funding for work in West Virginia in the fund’s second phase.

A map of what locations, sorted by census blocks, are set to benefit from the funding is available at fcc.gov/reports -research/maps/caf2-auction903 -results.

In 2019, the FCC expects to hold an auction with up to $4.53 billion available in mobile broadband funding for rural areas.

©2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.