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Capito Connect sees progress in Hampshire County

Can you hear me now? Good.

In 2014, I met with community leaders in Capon Bridge about moving West Virginia forward.

It quickly became clear that without proper broadband infrastructure, economic growth would slow and attracting businesses would be difficult.

Broadband affects nearly every aspect of our lives — from health to education to commerce to safety. West Virginia would quickly fall behind if we didn’t focus a plan to connect our state.

With the Capon Bridge conversation in the forefront of my mind, I launched my Capito Connect program in 2015 to help close the digital divide in West Virginia and bring affordable, reliable broadband to our state.

It’s been a challenge. Our state’s topography makes laying fiber difficult and costly, but we’ve made sizable progress.

This week, Hardy Telecommunications in Hardy County has been announced as the recipient of a $3 million grant through the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Community Connect program.

This is fantastic news, and these funds will undoubtedly help lay fiber in more remote areas of Hardy and Hampshire counties, connecting an estimated 600 homes, businesses, and farms in the area.

This type of award has been a long time coming for Hardy and Hampshire counties.

In 2018, I brought Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to West Virginia and showed him, by driving from Hardy County to Hampshire County, how drastically service can differ just by crossing county lines. Chairman Pai has been a tremendous partner in addressing broadband coverage, particularly when it comes to mapping.

More recently, I met with stakeholders last May to encourage them to continue applying for federal grants, like Community Connect and USDA’s ReConnect program.

I helped create the ReConnect program through my role on the Appropriations Committee, seeing that USDA was uniquely able to understand the difficulties in connecting rural areas.

Upon hearing from many in our communities that federal grant requirements are often too stringent for rural providers to meet, I called USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to voice these concerns. What good are rural broadband grants if the application requirements exclude the very people they are trying to help?

This type of bureaucratic red tape has prevented and discouraged providers in West Virginia from applying for federal funds that could help them connect their communities.

Secretary Perdue understood and worked diligently with his team at USDA to address these concerns. My hope is that more providers and municipalities will be encouraged to apply for federal funds now that the requirements are less steep and after seeing counties across the state receive awards.

For example, earlier this month, we saw success in North Central West Virginia, with Harrison County receiving an $18.7 million ReConnect grant. These funds will provide over 400 miles of fiber-to-the premises networks to connect more than 6,000 people in Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Barbour, and Upshur counties.

More success stories are coming this year.

I’m so glad to see this grant come to our communities, and I’m proud to be your federal partner.

I’ll continue working in the Senate to do what I can to leverage these federal programs until we finally get those last-mile homes and businesses in West Virginia.

(Capito, a native of Glen Dale and resident of Charleston, is a Republican representing West Virginia in the U.S. Senate)

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