West Virginia Governor Jim Justice unveiled his $1 billion broadband strategy to connect 200,000 West Virginia homes and businesses.
In a press release, Gov. Justice’s office said the funding will come from Federal, state, and local governments, as well as matching investments from private-sector partners. The goal of the $1 billion strategy is to accelerate the expansion of high-speed internet to underserved areas of the state.
“We’ve been talking for years about how to fix the rural broadband problem. Now we’re finally going to do it,” Gov. Justice said. “West Virginia students deserve to be able to do their homework. Our seniors deserve access to telehealth. Our businesses deserve to be able to reach their customers and suppliers. And all our residents deserve to be able to interact with their government, stay informed as citizens, and do all the hundreds of things that take high-speed internet.”
Under the new plan, the state will add a $236 million state broadband program to the existing $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 government funding will be matched by private-sector and local government partners, generating more than $1 billion in total broadband investment. The total funding will be awarded via competitive programs.
The press release identified the primary programs involved in the billion-dollar initiative:
- “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.
- 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. And Governor Justice placed on the Legislature’s special session call 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. These sources will provide $236 million in combined funding for the state’s own competitive broadband projects initiative.
- 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 FCC, 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.”
“Broadband is essential to modern life,” Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael said. “This comprehensive strategy coordinates a wide variety of funding sources that add up to a record investment in high-speed internet. Thanks to Governor Justice’s leadership, West Virginia is finally poised to solve yet another problem that’s dogged us for years.”