Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 7, 2013

Broadband access: Technology still lacking for many

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — In today’s day and age, broadband is considered as essential as water and sewer when it comes to economic development and growth. Unfortunately, there are still pockets of the state where families lack access to high-speed broadband access. And many of those areas can be found right here in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

In terms of the Mountain State, a broadband summit was hosted earlier this week in Morgantown by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Some of the state’s biggest Internet providers attended the gathering, including Suddenlink Communications, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Verizon. The companies say they are aggressively expanding their networks, and most are creating low-cost options for low-income families.

But the broadband providers face continued challenges in terms of geographic isolation and the cost of extending broadband into sparsely populated terrain. Many who live in these areas are the poor and elderly — some of whom do not actively use the Internet, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Rockefeller, and those who attended the summit, estimate that about 9 percent of the Mountain State is still lacking high-speed broadband service. And that’s 9 percent too many who are lacking modern high-speed Internet.

 Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is correctly encouraging the group to connect 100 percent of West Virginians to high-speed Internet so people in rural communities can reap the benefits that more urban communities already have.

“I love that 93 percent of our schools are connected to the Internet, but my job is looking out for the 7 percent that still aren’t,” Rockefeller said. “So we can’t rest even as we start bringing high-speed Internet to our classrooms and libraries. We can’t quit until everyone is connected.”

Rockefeller is correct. Extending broadband to all families and schools in the Mountain State should be a priority.

We have seen some progress in terms of broadband growth in rural areas. For example, it was announced just this past September that up to 785 middle school kids across McDowell County will be receiving laptop computers as part of the public-private Reconnecting McDowell initiative.

That’s great news — particularly considering the continued infrastructure and technology challenges facing McDowell County.

But there are still many small, rural communities across the deep south counties that are not served, or are underserved, when it comes to high-speed broadband access. That’s why the work to expand broadband to the 9 percent of those in the state who are still lacking must continue.

Without modern water, sewer and high-speed broadband infrastructure, those communities will not be able to grow and expand, and student learning could be impeded.