CHARLESTON – Thanks to the US rescue plan from Congress and President Joe Biden, federal funding is helping West Virginians gain access to high-speed broadband and computers. More projects will start later this month.
Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of the Department of Economic Development, briefed the Joint Government and Finance Committee Tuesday morning on the state’s plans to fund broadband expansion through the US bailout.
“This is a golden opportunity for broadband expansion in West Virginia.” said Carmichael.
West Virginia receives $ 138 million for broadband expansion through ARP funding. The state can also use part of the 1.355 billion US dollars it receives through the American Rescue Plan for infrastructure projects such as broadband expansion. Counties and cities will collectively receive $ 679 million through the Biden Plan, which can also be used for broadband projects. Carmichael said the state plans to use its ARP funds to focus solely on providing last mile broadband services – direct connections to homes – to unserved parts of the state with at least 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps Upload speed based on FCC definitions for high-broadband speed. The broadband office wants to concentrate on parts of the country that are not yet funded by federal and state programs.
The state also doesn’t plan to rely solely on FCC broadband cards. The current broadband cards used by the FCC are based on reports from Internet service providers deviating from the advertised maximum Internet speeds instead of reflecting reality. The reports are based on data from US census pads, and if only one house is served on a census pad, the entire census pad is considered served.
“We want to use these funds to reach those who have no service, and we’re not just going to rely on the inaccurate federal maps, many of which are inaccurate and out of date.” said Carmichael.
Carmichael said the state’s efforts will focus on examining existing network line extensions, fast wireless deployment projects, large investments in broadband infrastructure, and a local government incentive / suitable broadband funding incentive.
Internet service providers can apply for the expansion of existing fiber optic and cable networks and the projects for fast wireless provision at the end of June. The state is targeting a total of around $ 25 million for both programs. Businesses need to pool the government funding they are applying for.
The local government / adaptive broadband funding incentive will allow the state and local governments to pool their ARP broadband dollars. The program assists with drafting, cost estimates and analysis, aids in brokering deals with private partners and vendors, in applying for additional federal funding, and in finding matches. The award target is $ 30 million.
The state is targeting $ 40 million for the major broadband infrastructure investment program. The funds flow into the construction of new networks or the larger expansion of existing networks. The proposals will be selected on a competitive basis. Both the local government / adaptive broadband funding incentives and the large broadband infrastructure investment program will kick off later this month.
There are also grants for West Virginians who need assistance with paying for broadband services or who need a computer or tablet. According to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., more than 27,000 West Virginians have applied for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program established by Congress in late 2020. The application portal started three weeks ago.
“Providing affordable and reliable broadband access to every corner of West Virginia has long been a priority of mine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of closing the digital divide in our state.” Manchin said Tuesday. “I am delighted that more than 27,000 West Virginians have been enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to date.”
Eligible West Virginians who apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program can receive up to $ 50 per month from their Internet bill and $ 100 towards the purchase of a computer or tablet. Residents can apply at getemergencybroadband.org.
“The application is still open and almost every West Virginian is eligible for this program to make broadband more affordable.” said Manchin. “I encourage any eligible West Virginian to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and to contact my office with any questions regarding the application process.”
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