The West Virginia Legislature established a Governor appointed Broadband Enhancement Council in 2015 to address the need for better broadband service to many areas in the state, especially rural counties.
The 13-member council has been hard at work, not only seeking ways for more availability of Internet services, but for more reliable and affordable access.
The Enhancement Council is funded by monies formerly directed to the Broad- band Deployment council which ceased to exist in 2014.
Green Bank Observatory Business Manager Michael Holstine is a member of the new council. His appointment is a result of his tireless efforts in banging the drum about the dismal service provided to residents in Pocahontas County.
Holstine and the GBO hosted Broadband Summits in 2014 and 2015 as a platform for frustrated citizens, business owners and students to bring to the public stage their various issues with the service offered by the then one-option provider, Frontier.
Since that time, Internet service was improved at Snowshoe Resort by CityNet, and some residents in the northern end of Pocahontas County have seen an improvement in their service by way of an expansion of the Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone system.
While limited areas have seen improvement, more needs to be done.
Holstine sees a bit of light beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel.
The council is hopeful that, with input from rural businesses, economic development groups, changes in the legislature and a push by Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, Internet access is moving in a positive direction.
There is a wide-range focus, which includes economic as well as personal growth.
Progress is slow, but apparent, in that the council is pushing for competition. The legislature is on board with this, as recent passage of a broadband bill allows for co-ops to be established with as few as 20 people.
In addition, Region 4 Planning and Development Executive Director John Tuggle is seeking block grants to do studies about broadband needs in the counties under its umbrella. In the past, that office has focused on funding for water and sewer projects.
Holstine said that rural areas, with a population of less than 20,000 residents, are now being heard.
One way the council offers for rural residents, and, indeed, all residents to be heard is through its speed test website, broadband. wv.gov
Many Frontier customers have expressed frustration in that their Internet times out before the speed test can be completed. Holstine said it is important that Internet users add comments about that lack of service so that information can be used as well to support the need for improvement.
The Enhancement Council wants actual speed test results to more accurately reflect the service that is being provided.
Heretofore, providers have submitted their own Internet speed results, based on census block territories.
If one customer in a census block reports the actual advertised speed, the provider can claim that speed for all customers in that area.
The council wants a case-by-case, or customer-by-customer report.
The council will use speed test results and comments to establish maps for ranking potential funding opportunities.
“The worst will be first,” Holstine said. “As far as I’m concerned, the mapping is the most pressing thing. The current maps show Pocahontas County has 10 mbps service.”
Economic development is important, but education is of equal importance – for teachers and students to have adequate access to information in an ever changing world.
The council is seeking a “dig once” Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Highways.
Any new construction projects would be required to install conduit for Internet fiber that could be used by anyone going forward.
“That can minimally increase the cost of the job,” Holstine said, “But it will be less expensive in the long run.”
But in the Broadband Council’s march toward improved service, the important step at this time is to gather actual speed test results through the council’s website.
Again, that web address is broadband.wv.gov
The Broadband Enhancement Council meets the second Thursday of each month in the Commerce Building, Building 3, eighth floor conference room at 10 a.m.
The public is welcome.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org