Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 15, 2013

Broadband expansion: Growth continues in McDowell

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Local utility companies are still working to extend high-speed broadband into rural parts of southern West Virginia. Frontier Communications announced just last week that it had completed an upgrade that will extend broadband service to the small Ikes Fork community north of the town of Iaeger in McDowell County.

The broadband expansion project was made possible with subsidies from the federal Connect America Fund, according to Frontier General Manager Mike Swatts.

The announcement also comes one week after U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., hosted a broadband summit in Morgantown. Some of the state’s biggest Internet providers attended the gathering, including Suddenlink Communications, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Verizon. The companies indicated they are aggressively expanding their networks, and most are creating low-cost options for low-income families.

The expansion of high-speed Internet into the Ikes Fork area of Iaeger is a good example of how the utility companies are working to reach families living in rural areas.

Swatts says the Federal Communications Commission has stated that broadband service is necessary for citizens to have full participation in the nation’s economy and society. To expand broadband service, the FCC transformed the telephone-focused Universal Service Fund into the federal Connect America Fund.

“Frontier aggressively is extending broadband service in West Virginia, and more local residents and businesses now have access to the Internet as a result,” Swatts said.

But Swatts notes that bringing broadband service to McDowell County is not easy due to its mountainous terrain.

“It’s not like it is down south where you can put down miles of buried cable,” Swatts said last week. “It’s a challenge and it’s more expensive.”

The new service in McDowell County uses lines that were in place already. The broadband expansion will help both families and students in the greater Iaeger community. It also could help with future economic development and tourism growth in the region as broadband is now as essential as water and sewer when it comes to job creation and retention.

Rockefeller says 9 percent of those who live in West Virginia still lack modern broadband service. It is critical that efforts continue to reach those communities and families who still lack access to high-speed broadband access. The Ikes Fork project is a good example of what can be done.