Interactive map shows areas receiving rural broadband expansion
CHARLESTON — Thanks to a new map developed by the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, the public can see the parts of the state set to receive access to high-speed internet over the next 10 years.
The new Broadband Availability Map available at broadband.wv.gov shows where the state will receive access to broadband after the first phase of the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.
Nine companies were selected in the RDOF Phase I auction to expand high-speed internet to unserved parts of West Virginia. These companies will receive $362.1 million through the auction out of a possible $766 million for projects in 119,267 Census tracts.
The FCC awarded contracts to a combination of in-state companies and other corporations. Auction winners were Frontier Communications, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Altice USA (Suddenlink), Bridgeport-based Citynet, Commnet Wireless, Bruceton Mills-based Digital/PRODIGI, Bluefield, Va.-based GigaBeam, Buckhannon-based Micrologic and Shenandoah Cable Television.
While the FCC has yet to release the specific West Virginia Census tracts these companies were awarded to build out, the Broadband Availability Map gives each company a color code to show where the broadband expansion will take place.
“That map is updated with not only what areas were eligible for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, but who won at what speed tier,” said Delegate Daniel Linville, a member of the Broadband Enhancement Council and vice chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee.
“That has allowed folks to see what’s coming,” Linville said. “West Virginians want to see progress. So, we’re going to show them the work that we’ve been doing, the work that our partners are doing and where things are going.”
The Broadband Availability Map allows users to look at multiple sets of data, including internet speed test data, what parts of the state are unserved or unfunded, Kids Connect zones for wireless internet access for distance learning, and what areas meet the minimum criteria for FCC high-speed internet.
Linville said the map will allow lawmakers to craft better legislation to address broadband issues. It will also help the state during phase II of the RDOF auction, which will focus on underserved Census tracts in the state.
“That map has allowed us at this point to begin to craft good policy and to understand the state of broadband in the state of West Virginia better than we ever have, and perhaps better than any other state in the country,” Linville said. “It allows us to be able to finally tailor and to target our work on a legislative level to tailor our advocacy as we work with our federal partners to try to serve every person in the state of West Virginia and make sure that they have an option for broadband internet connectivity.”
Of the $362.1 million the state was able to pull down in RDOF dollars, the largest amount, $247.6 million, went to Frontier Communications. The Broadband Availability Map shows the areas of the state Frontier will have to expand broadband to.
Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April in an effort to reorganize $10 billion in debt and $1 billion in interest expenses. Frontier is expected to exit bankruptcy by early 2021 with 10 states already approving its restructuring plan. West Virginia has yet to approve Frontier’s plan and was required to undergo an audit of its copper network and infrastructure by the Public Service Commission after numerous complaints were filed regarding its services.
The commission said last month it will be entering an order in the case in the near future. In the meantime, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have asked the FCC for additional scrutiny of Frontier’s winning bid in the RDOF auction.
“If, during the review of Frontier’s long-form application for the West Virginia locations there are any questions or concerns about their ability to deliver on the commitment made in their short form application, I urge the FCC to reject their long-form application,” Capito said in a statement last week. “The stakes are simply too high to provide nearly $250 million to a company that does not have the capability to deliver on the commitments made to the FCC.”