The leader of one of West Virginia’s top Internet providers says $1.2 billion in federal broadband funding should be enough for service to reach the entire state.
“I think this program that the state just received is going to get absolutely every single household in West Virginia connected,” said Jim Martin, chief executive officer of Citynet. “If we can’t achieve this with this money, we’re definitely doing something wrong.”
Federal officials last week announced state awards for a $42.5 billion Internet expansion plan across the country, calling it historic. The money comes through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed into President Biden in 2021.
West Virginia is among 19 states receiving more than $1 billion in funding. The large amount is because West Virginia was able to demonstrate, through mapping, its high rate of underserved and underserved locations.
Rolling out over the next few years will work through partnerships between the state government’s broadband agency and companies bidding for the job.
West Virginia will follow a model that has already been established through previous American Rescue Act funding accepting applications, reviewing them for financial, technical, and community impact scores.
The implementation will also work using destination address maps that show where the service is most needed.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we can actually spot homes that don’t have it. And then we have to come up with a game plan of how to get there and serve those families and we can make it on this money, there’s absolutely no question about it,” Martin said on MetroNews’ “Talkline” this week.
West Virginia’s connectivity has been difficult to improve over the years, Martin said, because much of the state is rural and hilly.
“So the reason we don’t have broadband in these remote areas is that there is no going back. Generally speaking, we’ve talked about $30,000 a mile is the cost to build fiber,” he said. so the suppliers haven’t moved to those areas.”
Martin said government enforcement agencies will be active. “They’re very strict and have a lot of checks and make sure the suppliers aren’t putting money in their pockets,” he said. “Every penny, every penny you spend has to match an invoice and show that there is a real capital cost to cover it.”
The safeguards include a specific scope of work in specific areas for the companies under contract. Regular progress meetings, financial reviews and field checks are intended to help identify any problems early.
We don’t wait until the end to find out that something didn’t go as planned, Kelly Workman, director of the West Virginia Office of Broadband, told Talkline last week. I would say we keep tabs on the projects; we never take our eyes off them.
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo appeared in a streamed press conference last week with Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and said the Internet opportunity is historic. You also hinted at provisions intended to ensure that momentum picks up.
With this money, your $1.2 billion, to connect about 300,000 people in West Virginia, that’s a lot of money to get to everyone, Raimando said in the briefing.
And we mean the small farm or household at the end of a long road in rural West Virginia because we’re going to be subsidizing companies to make that infrastructure investment. And then we will hold them accountable for providing the Internet at the price a family can afford.
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