WV officials announce billion-dollar broadband plan to bring internet service to 200,000 more homes and businesses

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a billion-dollar strategy, Friday, that he says will bring broadband availability to 200,000 more West Virginia homes and businesses. “We’re going to change the trajectory of West Virginia,” Justice said.

The plan will combine funding from federal, state, and local governments, along with matching investments from private-sector partners, “to accelerate the expansion of high-speed internet to underserved areas of the state,” a news release read.

The strategy will add a $236 million state broadband program to $362 million in Federal Communications Commission funding and $120 million from other state and federal sources, for a total of $718 million in government funding expected to be allocated by fall 2022, the release said. The funds will also draw matching funds from private-sector and local government partners, to drive the total to more than $1 billion in total broadband investment.

The plan is described as “the largest investment in broadband in the state’s history.” West Virginia is now receiving the most per-capita FCC dollars for broadband of any state, to the tune of $202 per resident, Justice said. “This is surely a landmark day for West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said. “We’ve been talking for years about how to fix the rural broadband problem. Now we’re finally going to do it.

The main programs involved in the plan are:

1 – Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) offers internet service providers (ISPs) funding to extend service to underserved areas. The program centers on a reverse auction in which ISPs compete for grants to connect underserved census tracts, with each tract awarded to the ISP that can connect it with the least amount of federal subsidization.

This RDOF funding will be complemented by private investment from participating ISPs to create a minimum expected 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 strategy’s second major component will be operated by the state Office of Broadband and Broadband Council, using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and state-budget funding. ARPA’s Capital Projects Fund includes $136 million for broadband in West Virginia.

On Friday, Justice placed an additional $90 million appropriation of ARPA State Fiscal Recovery funds for broadband projects, along with a $10 million appropriation of state general revenue funds for wireless broadband projects, on the Legislature’s special session call.

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

  • Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD): The LEAD program will award competitive grants to ISPs to expand existing fiber and cable networks. Applications will be accepted in multiple rounds from November 2021 through January 2022, with funding decisions made on a rolling basis through early 2022.
  • GigReady Initiative: Local governments in West Virginia have been allocated more than $500 million from the ARPA Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, and many of them intend to invest that money in local broadband expansion. The GigReady Initiative will provide matching state funds for local governments that develop projects to pool their broadband investments. Applications will be submitted beginning November 2021 and funding decisions will be made on a rolling basis through early 2022.
  • Major Broadband Project Strategies (MBPS): The MBPS program will focus on large-scale multicounty projects that require additional resources to achieve rapid implementation. Applications will be accepted and funding decisions made in multiple rounds from early 2022 through fall 2022.
  • Wireless Internet Networks (WIN): The WIN program will use $10 million in 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 through early 2022.

Participating ISPs will be required to include a low-price service tier that is affordable for lower-income West Virginians.

3 – Other federal and state funding sources: Other existing funding sources, primarily federal, are expected to contribute at least $120 million to broadband development 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 state Office of Broadband and Broadband Council will coordinate with those programs to ensure that state funds are allocated efficiently and maximum broadband coverage is obtained.

Friday’s announcement included comments from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, and U.S. Representatives David McKinley and Carol Miller, along with AARP and healthcare representatives.

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