Editorials, Opinion

W.Va. might soon join 21st century

Multiple broadband projects seek to connect unserved areas to internet

The good news: West Virginia is slated to receive approximately $1.2 billion of $42.45 billion of the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program — the 11th largest allocation nationwide based on updated connectivity data looking at individual addresses instead of census tracts. 

We thank our senators for helping West Virginia secure the funding we need to make internet widely accessible throughout the state. Sen. Joe Manchin, in particular, fought to have existing broadband maps updated to show the reality of internet connectivity — or, the lack thereof — that resulted in West Virginia’s large allotment. 

The bad news: States have until 2025 to complete all the necessary paperwork and five years from approval to build out their broadband projects, which means many areas aren’t looking to get reliable internet access until around 2030.  

The slightly better news: Monongalia County isn’t waiting around for the BEAD program. The county will move forward with its broadband “rings” to get middle-mile internet infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas. We hope that because the county has already started the paperwork process, it will reach the build-out phase before any counties or municipalities waiting on BEAD funds. 

All of this to say: West Virginia is slowly working its way toward the 21st century. And we might get there before the 22nd century. 

However, some un- or underserved areas will not be eligible for BEAD funds because of previous federal grant program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Under that initiative, internet providers reverse-bid on the opportunity to bring broadband to designated regions. As Commissioner Sean Sikora pointed out: Frontier and Citynet have already promised to bring broadband to much of Mon County through the RDOF (Frontier was one of the top 10 winning bidders, receiving $371 million in federal funds), but tangible progress is extremely limited. 

According to the RDOF Auction map, Frontier and Citynet are in charge of covering vast swaths of Mon County. (Though there is a large blank area that would seem to coincide with what the Mon County Commission has designated as “Ring 11,” which is also the commission’s first project.) Unfortunately, it’s hard to say how much of the work has been completed or when it will be complete. Although both Frontier and Citynet each have one bid (equal to one designated area to work on) go into default in Mon County, the remainder are marked as fully authorized. So unless something happens, many potential internet users will have to wait for Citynet and Frontier to get to work, because those areas will not qualify for the new BEAD program. 

We certainly hope things go smoother (and quicker) for Mon County’s solo broadband project and West Virginia’s BEAD projects than they have under the RDOF. We understand that build-outs take time, but technology develops lightning-fast in comparison. If providers don’t pick up the pace, the kind of broadband they offer will be obsolete by the time it reaches anyone’s home or business.