Through collaboration, conversations, and expertise, the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council has helped to bring faster internet connectivity to the state through both traditional and nontraditional internet providers, as members of the council discussed on November 14 at Bloomberg’s Next.2018 event.
“One of the major initiatives we put forth is encouraging public-private partnerships, rather than encouraging government owned and operated networks,” said Robert Hinton, chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council. “We want to have the communities partner with the private carriers and let the private carriers do what they do best.”
The theme of public-private partnerships drove a lot of the council’s work, and led some new parties to get involved.
“We started out life as a small break/fix technology company,” said Charlie Dennie, vice president of government relations at Alpha Technologies. But after acquiring a large data center and attempting to move into cloud services, the company found that the lack of broadband service hampered its goals. “We discovered that the availability and the cost of the broadband services needed to make that happen simply wasn’t available. And so, we got the idea one day to build our own fiber.”
Dennie detailed how Alpha was building 35 miles of fiber internet around Charleston, W.Va., and already sold enough subscriptions to pay the debt service on the project. He also noted how smaller broadband companies were working together to make sure they can serve communities.
Partnerships with state-level agencies and local governments also brought major benefits for broadband expansion in the state.
Hinton detailed how the council worked to open up small city block grant funding for broadband, started its own pilot program to compare speed test data with data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and created a loan insurance program for small providers starting new projects up to $10 million.
Among the other major initiatives that both panelists touted was winning the access to state-owned right-of ways.
“The Governor, Jim Justice, did us all a huge favor when he declared that the value of the right of way, for construction purposes, would be zero dollars,” said Dennie, pointing to the tax benefits of the move. “Anything that’s taxed, if you want more of it–make the taxes lower.”
Throughout the process, the council has been realistic about its role.
“One of the things we say, is that the council chairman or council members are not going to come to your community and help you solve the problem. It’s going to take a local community effort, and it’s going to take a partnership with the providers in order to solve that problem,” said Hinton.