The Senate's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has approved a bill that aims to expand access to broadband internet services across West Virginia, even though industry representatives continue to express opposition to the bill.
Senate Bill 315 would created a government constructed, government owned middle mile network paid for with federal grants and, possibly, a bond.
The committee’s chair and the bill’s lead sponsor Sen. Chris Walters explains a middle mile like a state highway system made up of internet fiber. Internet providers would be able to hook up to that interstate at the cost to maintain the system, creating their own off ramps into rural communities.
While Walters maintains the proposal won’t take any money from the state’s budget to complete, industry representatives say lawmakers should be concerned with cost.
“We believe that the last mile is the challenge and it is. It is far more expensive to try to connect people to their homes than it is to connect people on the middle mile network," Frontier Government and External Affairs Manager Kathy Cosco said.
Cosco said she thinks lawmakers should be focused on providing tax credits to companies who expanded their last mile, the connection directly to a customer's home.
“I think there may be opportunity to work out a better solution or at least a compromised solution that really does immediately improve broadband delivery in West Virginia," Senate Majority Leader, and Frontier employee, Senator Mitch Carmichael said.
Carmichael would like to see a bill passed that incentivizes the private sector to expand rather than creating the government owned middle mile.
“If there is enough interest within the body to put the state in the broadband business than it certainly will come to a vote," he added.
Sen. Walters's bill will next be considered by the Senate Committee on Government Organization.