Opinion: Connectivity Key to Opportunity in West Virginia

Last week, a group of Facebook representatives and state officials broke ground on Facebook's fiber Internet project in the state, part of a much larger infrastructure project stretching from Ohio to Virginia.

by Times West Virginian, Fairmont / November 26, 2019
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(TNS) — Last week, a group of Facebook representatives and state officials broke ground on Facebook's fiber internet project in the state, part of a much larger infrastructure project stretching from Ohio to Virginia.

This project is important to our state — in terms of internet connectivity, West Virginia is 46th in the nation, with only 75.2% of residents able to access broadband.

This lack of connectivity costs the state in opportunity and economic development: why would a potential business establish a location where the necessary utilities aren't available?

The state misses out on potential tax revenue, both from an operating business and from income tax paid by that business's employees.

In Marion County, we are lucky to have the I-79 Technology Corridor, but what could happen in our state if there were suddenly many more opportunities for large operations like the NASA IV&V Center to establish themselves around our state?

We've written several times about the desperate need for West Virginia to diversify its economy. Our own state experts have warned us time and again of the danger of leaning too hard on a single industry, especially one in decline. An investment in internet connectivity like this is exactly what our state needs to help that diversification become a reality.

Aside from the business potential, several educational and financial hindrances for the population at large come along with a low rate of connectivity.

With more widely-available internet connection comes access to online classes through WVU or other accredited institutions, maybe even a chance for colleges in new communities, which, when paired with West Virginia Invests, the recently-established community college tuition waiver, presents an enormous opportunity for residents in more rural areas who may not have been able to afford college or even the commute to class.

Another topic we've written about in the past, rural access to health care, can improve with better access to the internet. WVU Medicine already has several satellite offices — with widespread access, this number could increase and fewer residents will have to travel a prohibitive distance for their health care needs. As West Virginia's population continues to age, this will only become more important.

Wider health care access can also bring more options for the treatment of addiction — something our state could always use.

We also know that the outsized use of opioids in our state is at least partially related to the massive downturn of the coal industry; the loss of jobs can lead to dire circumstances, and drugs offer an escape, temporary and superficial though it may be. Business development opportunities can increase the number of available jobs for our workforce, and perhaps stem the number of people who turn to opioids for comfort.

None of these scenarios are guaranteed, of course, and better internet access is not the magic bullet that will solve all of our problems. State officials must understand how these things relate to each other and try to maximize the huge opportunities that better connectivity can bring. Even still, we believe this infrastructure project could represent the first step in improving our state in massive ways if we are all willing to put the work in.

©2019 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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