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WV Senate is poised to vote on broadband access Thursday

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A session that so far had not generated much heavy debate saw a little heat April 10 on the Senate floor.

Debate about House Bill 2979, which would extend the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council's broadband efforts, filled the Senate floor while the bill was on a second reading April 10. The bill suggests ways for the committee to target its public outreach and grants for improved broadband access throughout the state.

An amendment proposed on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Cabell, was adopted by members after a close voice vote was repeated by asking members to stand to cast their votes.

He said his amendment would help the council extend its reach even further. It also raises the Internet speed that would be used to consider users "under-served" by aligning the state with the federal standard, which is a big jump from the 200KB speed the state uses now to assess Internet users as under-served.

"If you're going to compete in this world today, you have to have access," Plymale told lawmakers. "Access has to be the No. 1 item, and this amendment to the amendment allows that access to be the priority, and we help establish that from the Legislature."

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said Plymale's amendment would leave the council's hands tied, sending money to smaller communities rather than providing upgrades to more people. He called it "gaming" by broadband providers.

But Plymale explained that the council would be able to prioritize access and make decisions about cost-effectiveness.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who works for Frontier, said West Virginia's problem with broadband service is not speed but access.

"There are 85,000 homes without access to broadband other than satellite," Carmichael said, while speaking in support of Plymale's amendment.

He said the amendment spells out that taxpayer money would not be utilized to upgrade service to West Virginians who already have broadband services.

"It's twofold," Carmichael said. "Demand and access, not speed, which is what the gentleman's amendment does.

"It's entirely appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to help and assist those people get broadband service and get on the information superhighway rather than upgrading those that are already on it."

The bill will be on the Senate's schedule for a third reading and a vote April 11.