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Not holding my breath on broadband

Gov. Jim Justice, and other state officials, took some time Thursday to announce a broadband expansion project for the state.

Using a series of executive orders and proposed legislation, the governor hopes West Virginia will be able to receive federal funds to subsidize the construction of high-speed internet service to various rural areas where it currently is unavailable.

Officials have said for years that West Virginia has an internet problem. The terrain of the Mountain State hasn’t always made it easy for various infrastructure, and that means some communities have difficulty in providing basic needs, such as water and sanitary services, let alone internet.

As technology grows, though, and development efforts continue, investments in communications infrastructure is necessary, and this is the latest proposal.

A prime example of the need for internet access, and a rather ironic incident, came during the announcement itself, as, according to reports, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw was unable to participate in Thursday’s Zoom conference on the broadband initiative. Apparently, he was having trouble with his internet connection.

According to the map, which appeared in our Friday edition, there are some areas of both Hancock and Brooke counties which would be eligible for these broadband enhancements.

That’s pretty well common knowledge around here, of course, as most residents only have a couple of service providers from which to choose. Unfortunately, some of those providers won’t serve certain areas of our region, finding it to be not cost effective, and the service of the other providers is…challenging.

Despite that, I’m not sure how much of that funding the Northern Panhandle will see, assuming West Virginia gets any of it to begin with. The majority of the eligible areas appear to be in southern and central West Virginia, and I can imagine that is where much of the focus will be.

In fact, some of the legislative officials involved in the announcement specifically noted the need to improve internet access as a way to encourage economic development in the southern portions of the state as the coal industry continues to decline.

In addition, state officials are putting together a 10-year plan for these broadband enhancements. So, while it’s nice to see some thought taking place, this will have no impact on the immediate future or help to alleviate some of the problems we are facing in the current time.

Thankfully, there have been other efforts taking place in the Ohio Valley in recent years to showcase the need for high-speed infrastructure and entice other service providers to come to the area. That, too, will take more time.

We’re seeing at this time, though, some of the consequences of our state’s lack of investment in technology. The school year is about the begin, and many of our area’s school districts have opted to include some form of remote learning as a result of the continuing COVID pandemic.

Computers and iPads have been purchased for use by the students. However, not every family has internet access, meaning other arrangements have to be made for students to obtain their lessons. In some cases, that means school districts establishing WiFi hubs at school sites.

West Virginia, in general, has not done a great job of investing in its future. There have been discussions at various points, but talk is cheap when action isn’t taken.

My concern is this announcement will become another political back-and-forth, and, once again, nothing will actually be accomplished. I hope all West Virginians keep their eyes open on this one.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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