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Commission approves broadband infrastructure expansion project

(AP)
Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 4:22 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has approved a plan for a broadband infrastructure project in Logan and Mingo Counties.

The plan was submitted in January by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power.

The PSC also approved cost recovery for the estimated $61.3 million investment, which includes installing 430 miles of middle-mile fiber optic cable infrastructure needed to facilitate broadband access in unserved areas of Logan and Mingo counties.

“The global pandemic brought a heightened sense of urgency to solving the digital divide, in which rural residents without broadband availability are unable to work, learn or access health services from home,” said Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and chief operating officer. “We are well-positioned to help expand broadband access in rural parts of our service area, and are excited to be part of the solution to this longstanding issue.”

AEP officials say major service providers install the backbone network that provides access to the World Wide Web. “Last-mile” providers install the service to homes and businesses and serve customers directly. In rural areas, providing the “middle-mile” fiber network, such as the one that will be built in Logan and Mingo counties, is often the most difficult part of creating a broadband fiber network. Beam says the expansion of fiber has the added benefit of providing a robust communications platform for electric grid enhancements that improve energy efficiency and service reliability.

This project plan calls for internet service provider GigaBeam Networks of Bluefield, Va., to own, install and operate the last-mile infrastructure needed to deliver broadband services to customers in the project area. The company will also have access to the middle-mile facilities in phases throughout construction. The phased-in approach will allow GigaBeam to coordinate its equipment installations with middle-mile construction and connect new broadband service customers on a rolling basis throughout the construction process.

Construction is expected to start within 180 days and be finished about 24 months following the start of the project construction.

The first year project costs will add 15 cents each month to the bills of the companies’ West Virginia residential customers using 1,000 kWh/month.

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