Pocahontas County Broadband Council Briefed on New WV Broadband Legislative Efforts
Two members of the WV House of Delegates briefed the Pocahontas County Broadband Council at their January 27th meeting about legislation being considered in the WV Legislature that would lower the cost of deploying broadband around the state and speed up the process. The two Delegates, Republican Daniel Linville, who is Chairman of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee, and the Assistant Majority Whip of the House of Delegates and Republican TY Nester, who represents Randolph and Pocahontas Counties, talked about House Bill 4001, which they both helped introduce on January 13, 2022.
They explained that the bill has several components. One of which is to create a legislative oversight commission over the newly created Department of Economic Development. Linville explained that this commission would ensure that the Department of Economic Development spends taxpayer money wisely in a proper way to include money spent on expanding broadband infrastructure in the state.
The bill will also create several funds which will affect broadband installation. One of these is the Broadband Development Fund, which will fund the Office of Broadband and to develop and expand fiber lines and projects. Another is the Broadband Middle Mile Fund, which will require that any 100% government funded broadband lines will have to be shared with competing broadband providers in return for a fair and competitive payment. He provided a simplified illustrative explanation: If FEDX used 100% federal or state money to build a road, they would have to let UPS use that road if they paid FEDX a fair price for doing so. Of course, this legislation refers to broadband fiber lines and internet provider companies, not roads and delivery companies.
Another fund is the Pole Replacement and Relocation Fund. That fund will assist providers with relocating or replacing utility poles to facilitate the placement of telecommunication facilities to provide service to underserved areas.
The bill will also create other funds and regulations which will facilitate installations of underground utility lines, assure providers be certified by the state as “Eligible Telecommunications Carriers or ETCs,” which status the state could revoke if the provider does not do what they agreed to do.
Linville says the bill will also provide consumer protections for broadband customers.
This bill is currently in committee and has yet to be brought up for a vote in either the House of Delegates or the State Senate.
After being questioned by members of the Broadband Council, Linville said that if a company such as Frontier, City Net or any other provider is awarded its bid for a Rural Development Opportunity Fund area (RDOF area) but does not live up to its stated commitment to build broadband in that area, the federal government has delegated the power to the state to revoke that company’s ETC status which would effectively cut off funds to that company.
In addition to this legislative report, Craig Murphy of Thompson & Litton told the council that the ARC Broadband Project will start fieldwork in February and T&L is continuing to work with City Net to prepare the county’s application for the Reconnect Grant.
The Broadband Council also announced that this meeting marked its one-year anniversary since being founded in January of 2021. Sarah Riley said that if at that first meeting, they had set out goals to be accomplished in their first year, they would never have imagined accomplishing as much as they actually have in that first year.