CHARLESTON – West Virginia set to launch broadband expansion plans as soon as the federal government releases funds for the US bailout, while the Federal Communications Commission has announced that Bridgeport-based Citynet will receive support for its rural broadband plans.
West Virginia lawmakers received an update on broadband plans on Sunday during the first day of the October provisional legislative meetings, a day before the start of a special session for the redistribution of Congress and the state and other elements. The Joint Technology Committee heard testimony from Mitch Carmichael, cabinet secretary of the Department of Economic Development on Sunday afternoon.
Carmichael said there was more than $ 478 million in mostly federal funds allocated to the state for broadband expansion, including $ 136 million specifically allocated to West Virginia through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The $ 136 million does not count the $ 1.36 billion for the state and the $ 678 million for cities and counties that can also be used for broadband infrastructure through ARPA.
âWe would really like to get into these programs. We don’t have the money yet to do it â, Carmichael said. âAt this point there has been no money allocated for broadband expansion. We can’t wait to get startedâ¦ We’re ready, willing and able to go when you say go.
Carmichael announced four programs in June through the Office of Broadband that will use ARPA broadband funds to focus on reviewing existing trunk extensions, rapid wireless deployment projects, major investments in broadband infrastructure and a corresponding local government / broadband funding incentives. But the window to start these projects is closing soon due to the approach of winter. Carmichael hopes to have the funds in hand by the end of the year.
âThe delays are enormous. The construction season is passing quickly â, Carmichael said. “We really pushed the federal government to get at least some of these decisions (the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) made to fund these programs.”
The FCC announced last Thursday that it was ready to allow Citynet to begin work on broadband expansion projects in more than 15 counties as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction. ). The FCC will award Citynet $ 53.5 million over 10 years to complete the projects, making Citynet the first company to have its West Virginia plan approved by the FCC.
“Additional aid is on the way for households without broadband”, FCC Interim President Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.
âThis is an important program to connect more Americans to high-speed Internet, and we continue to closely monitor this process to ensure that vendors meet their deployment obligations in areas that need it. “
Citynet was one of nine companies selected for the RDOF Phase I auction last December. The auction allocated $ 9.2 billion over 10 years to subsidize the construction of gigabit broadband internet in unserved rural areas of the United States.
Other companies that received winning bids for projects in West Virginia included Frontier Communications, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Altice USA (Suddenlink), Commnet Wireless, Digital / PRODIGI based in Bruceton Mills, Bluefield, GigaBeam based in Virginia. , Buckhannon-based Micrologic and Shenandoah Cable Television.
The first phase of the two-phase reverse auction will go to non-service areas. Phase two of the auction, which is expected to take place at a later date, will focus on areas with partial internet service.
West Virginia U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin released statements last week praising the FCC for approving the Citynet plans. Capito and Manchin have made seeking federal support for broadband expansion a priority.
“In order to improve connectivity in West Virginia, we need to make sure we have all the opportunities available to do so,” said Capito. âIt’s great news that Citynet of Bridgeport is one of the local providers – and the first in West Virginia – that will receive a significant portion of this funding. This funding will be instrumental in helping Citynet help roll out broadband, helping us better connect West Virginia. “
“Affordable and reliable broadband access is essential to the success and growth of our communities across West Virginia, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of broadband to our daily lives.” said Manchin. “I am pleased that West Virginia provider Citynet is awarded $ 53.5 million to expand access in West Virginia, but there is still work to be done.”
While Manchin and Capito were happy with the announcement, both raised concerns about the maps being used to determine which areas of the state and nation were not or underserved. The provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan hard infrastructure bill passed by the US Senate in August and held hostage by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, address broadband mapping issues.
âThe broadband coverage maps used to distribute RDOF funds are still incorrect, and more than 2,400 West Virginia residents have proven this through speed tests submitted to the FCC. said Manchin. “This is why I have successfully fought to tie the broadband funding in the bipartite infrastructure bill to updated maps to ensure that every West Virginia can get quality broadband access. that we all need and deserve. “
A report released last spring by the Competitive Carriers Association found that due to inaccurate broadband coverage maps used by the FCC to determine which areas of the country are unserved and underserved, federal funding provided under of Phase I of the auction went to parts of the United States that already have reliable high-speed Internet access.
âWhile we all agree that more granular data is needed – and we are currently working to improve these broadband cards – it is important to seize this opportunity rather than wait. “ said Capito. “It will be a gradual process, but it will translate into progress towards better connectivity.”