West Virginia’s digital divide is unacceptable

September 27, 2018 GMT

Lack of connectivity is something many in West Virginia and Wayne County have grown accustomed to.

While our state boasts some of the best scenic views, friendliest people and REALLY good pepperoni rolls, a combination of rough terrain and a relatively small population have made the state less-than-attractive market for companies to build broadband networks.

But some recent developments suggest that the state’s relative lack of access to broadband may make a turn for the better.

The Federal Communications Commission announced that three internet companies will receive around $12 million combined in federal funding to provide broadband access to West Virginia communities that are currently lacking it.

The money comes from the FCC’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction and will help to expand internet access in 7,962 locations, sorted by census blocks, throughout the state, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

That’s good news for many areas, but a closer look at which counties will receive the most attention suggests that southern West Virginia - an area hit hard by the decline of coal in recent years - will receive little help from this most recent round of funding.

With failing coal mines and lack of economic development, broadband is needed to help find a solution to expand and draw population to area - and keep it there.

The other development may help with that problem. Houston-based Skylark Wireless announced it will receive a 2018 Microsoft Airband Initiative Grant to provide “affordable” broadband service to underserved communities in rural West Virginia.

The CEO of Skylark told the Gazette-Mail that the company’s ultimate goal is to provide broadband to 10,000 homes and businesses in the Mingo County area through TV white spaces, where unused broadcast channels between active ones are accessed for internet service.

The improved service also could reach into other areas, such as Logan County, in years to come.

The ability to bring broadband to these areas in which are completely lacking, would hopefully, improve existing connectivity to bordering areas.

Improved access to broadband internet is needed throughout West Virginia, but especially in Wayne County.

According to a report compiled by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., West Virginia ranks 47th in broadband connectivity with 30 percent of its residents not having access. In rural areas of the state, that number spikes to 48 percent.

Some of those residents are living right here in Wayne County. And while some have access, the connectivity is very poor.

The lack of access hinders economic growth, decreases tourism as well as limits health care and educational opportunities.

It is also disheartening and can be maddening that companies such as Frontier Communications and Hughs Net are some of the only available options and are not up to standards.

Just because West Virginia is a rural state, with acres of spaced out residents does not mean we deserve to be disconnected from the world.

Furthermore, better connectivity could help to enlighten outsiders of what we have to offer.