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West Virginia Broadband Map Shows 20,000 Unserved Households

The West Virginia Economic Development Office has made a map of broadband infrastructure which will guide Gov. Jim Justice’s plan of bringing Internet to hundreds of thousands of state residents, state officials say.

West Virginia Capitol
West Virginia Capitol
(David Kidd)
(TNS) — The West Virginia Economic Development Office has originated a map of broadband infrastructure which will guide Gov. Jim Justice’s plan of bringing internet service to hundreds of thousands of state residents, state officials explained Wednesday.

Justice’s plan aims to expand broadband service to 200,000 households in the state that currently do not have broadband internet.

“There is nothing that I can see, right now, that’s as important as broadband across the state,” said Justice. “So many people come and are disappointed when they come because we don’t have the capability to even connect ourselves in many, many different areas of our state.

"Now, we have put a stake in the sand,” Justice added, later. “We have made tremendous progress in regard to our highways across the state, but now we’re going to have a digital highway, a highway that’s going to cover up this state.”

The plan will combine the state’s $236 million commitment to $362 million in funding from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), along with an additional $120 million from other state and federal resources, according to Justice.

Most of the state funding comes from its share of federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocations.

“The governor’s been very direct on this, as has the U.S. Treasury,” said Department of Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael. “This money can only be utilized to serve those who do not have broadband service.”

The monies will be used to bring broadband service to those who have internet speeds below 25 mps/3 mps.

Over the summer, state residents took online internet speed tests and shared their addresses with the Development Office for mapping purposes. Some West Virginians who do not have broadband service called the Development Office to report their addresses, state officials said Wednesday.

The state maps show at least 200,000 households — each of which, on average, accounts for 2.9 people — do not have reliable broadband service. Areas throughout the state are lacking service, the map shows.

State officials said broadband expansion will be an ongoing effort in the state, with the goal of the first wave of expansion to ensure that 90 percent of West Virginias have broadband internet service.

Ongoing efforts will be made to ensure that those who were not served in the first wave will later receive service.

Kelly Workman, program manager for the State Community Advancement and Development Office, reported that the mapped broadband shows that the FCC had estimated that 350,000 individuals are without service in the state, which is fewer than state mapping shows.

“We do believe there are more people unserved in West Virginia than the FCC currently reports,” said Workman.

In conjunction with the West Virginia Press Association, Justice held a Zoom roundtable discussion on broadband Wednesday with Carmichael, Workman, Department of Economic Development Broad and Economic Development Specialist Vic Sprouse and Jamie Hoffman, geographic informations system (GIS) coordinator for the State Department of Economic Development.

Workman said the FCC had mapped broadband data at “Census block” level, meaning that if one resident in a block, as recognized by the U.S. Census, had broadband, the entire block was counted as having broadband service.

“An issue in West Virginia has been, one person in that Census block may be served, but there may be 50 others who have not.”

The maps created by state officials show address level data, relying on the 911 address and the input of state residents. State officials have a more accurate map for use when applying for grants and expansion efforts.

West Virginia had joined other states in petitioning the FCC to move away from Census block data. The state map is now more advanced than the federal mapping for infrastructure.

Jamie Hoffman helped to collect and analyze data, top create databases and plug it all onto maps. He said the venture is a “huge advancement” in accurately mapping broadband availability statewide.

The maps will aid officials in identifying placement of existing broadband infrastructure and will assist in expansion efforts. The maps are showing addresses in areas which receive funding from state, local and federal programs.

“At this point, we’re near finalization,” reported Hoffman.

Carmichael said the plan to expand broadband will require a post-funding audit to assure taxpayers that money is being spent as planned.

Broadband is necessary for those who are moving to the state.

“Without broadband expansion and connectivity, economic development suffers,” said Carmichael.

© 2021 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.