W.Va. Gov. Justice announces major broadband expansion

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 3:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice announced an executive order that he called a ‘mega game changer’ Thursday to support access to high-speed broadband all across the state.

“We all know that our state is so deficient on broadband it’s unbelievable,“ said Gov. Justice during a press briefing. “We’ve been trying to play catch up.”

The governor says a program created by the FCC called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that is designed to deploy broadband internet to rural America could help alleviate the dire situation in the Mountain State.

“There’s almost 800 million dollars out there for the taking. We’ve struggled in lots of ways because it’s going to expire on the taking I think sometime in October. So, we’ve got to move,” said Gov. Justice.

In order to obtain the $766 million up for grabs, Gov. Justice said he will be signing an executive order to remove regulatory caps from the broadband infrastructure loan program and to eliminate the regulatory caps per provider.

The loan program is facilitated through the Board of Treasury Investments. In 2017, the amount of funds that BTI could make available to broadband providers was capped at $50 million, with no more than $10 million for any single enterprise.

Gov. Jim also hinted Thursday that this plan will created job growth with work on the project set to begin in February of 2021.

“This will become an incredible construction project that will employ hundreds if not thousands of West Virginians,” Gov. Justice said.

However, the governor says legislation will presented before any money is spent.

“I by emergency order am going to remove the caps today but before a dollar is spent, legislators will come back into session, I’ll send up a bill and they will actually review and establish the caps,” Gov. Justice said.

Gov. Justice says $50 million in CARES Act funding has also been set aside for broadband in addition to funds from the FCC.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson), Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso (D-Marion), Speaker of the House of Delegates Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay), and House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison), Thursday commended Gov. Justice for his announcement of an Executive Order that will usher in a major expansion of broadband internet service to rural and underserved areas of West Virginia.

Carmichael says this program will give an additional 121,000 households access to high class broadband internet.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has again highlighted the desperate need for world-class broadband service in West Virginia,” Senate President Carmichael said. “Telehealth, distance learning, and work from home initiatives require superior internet connectivity. West Virginia has an amazing opportunity to capitalize on this federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and I thank Governor Justice for doing his part to make it possible for broadband providers to utilize this incredible opportunity.”

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