Last week, Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order that will allow West Virginia to leverage $766 million over the next 10 years to connect 121,000 West Virginia homes to world-class broadband, particularly those in currently underserved areas across the state.
“We’re going to cover up West Virginia with broadband,” Gov. Justice said. “This is monumental beyond belief and will absolutely revolutionize and change this state.”
The Federal Communications Commission has created a program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Through this program, the FCC will direct billions of dollars to finance the deployment of high-speed broadband networks across underserved regions of rural America, connecting millions homes and businesses to world-class broadband access.
A large majority of the northern half of Clay County is eligible for broadband expansion under this new program.
“For West Virginia, there’s almost $800 million-worth of broadband projects just sitting out there for the taking, but it’s going to expire in October,” Gov. Justice said. “So we’ve got to move.”
There is an existing program administered by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, called the Broadband Infrastructure Loan Insurance program, that is already set up to help providers interested in bidding for these broadband projects. Subject to a liquidity determination and cash availability, this program makes funds available to the EDA in the form of a nonrecourse revolving loan for the purpose of insuring loans for broadband expansion projects.
The program currently has strict regulatory caps in place that would limit any one project to $10 million per year and all projects to a strict cap of $50 million per year. However, to fully leverage the money from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the State would need to provide insurance for nearly $80 million in letters of credit these providers need to apply for the program.
“In order for this to really flow, we need to increase the cap,” Gov. Justice said.
“We all know that our state is deficient on broadband,” Gov. Justice continued. “The caps must be removed because they are preventing the state from responding to the emergency that we have on-hand with the pandemic. Whether it be remote learning, telehealth, and so many other things, if we had broadband now, we would be able to be serving our citizens in a better way.”