West Virginia ranks 48th nationally in broadband connectivity, according to Generation West Virginia, an organization devoted to accruing and retaining a talented workforce in the state. The Federal Communications Commission found that 30 percent of the state’s population lacks high-speed Internet service.
21st Century State & Local conducted an exclusive Q&A with John Dunlap, West Virginia’s newly minted chief technology officer, to see how he plans to address the IT issues that confront his state.
21C: When was your first official day as CTO?
John Dunlap: My first official day was Jan. 30. It’s an honor and a privilege. After 32 years in state government, it’s like a crowning achievement in my career.
21C: What’s the biggest IT-related challenge West Virginia has?
JD: Broadband connectivity is hard because of our topography. There are about 1.8 million people in West Virginia. The metropolitan areas do fine. The mountainous areas struggle. Some areas have no connectivity at all.
21C: How do you plan to redress these connectivity problems?
JD: I’m a firm believer in developing partnerships with service providers. We belong to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the National Association of State Technology Directors. We’re faced with many challenges, just like our sister states. We are not the only state to face these issues. I hope to learn some of the pitfalls. We’re going to try to tackle community by community. I would rather have us pulling together and not tugging at each other.
21C: Besides living communities, are there any particular areas that need broadband help?
JD: West Virginia is a beautiful state, and people come to our state parks. We’ve got to get more broadband connectivity in our parks. People use social media, and you have to have instantaneous access. We’re always going to have to have wireless technology.
21C: When was the CTO position established in West Virginia?
JD: The CTO position was created around 1996 or 1998. I’m No. 5 or 6. I’m here to serve this administration. I want to do what’s best for the state of West Virginia. There’s going to be some challenges here.
21C: What are your goals for your first year of service?
JD: In my first six months, I’m going to be looking at the budget. We have $38 million in state spending authority. We hope to re-bid some contracts if possible to save the state some money. The budget deficit is taking the forefront. We’ll have a good idea of the direction we’re going in after the legislative session. In the first year, I’m going to develop two or three strategies. In two or three years, we’ll have made a very big dent.