Gov. Justice leading the way on “monumental” project connecting 121,000 West Virginia homes to world-class broadband

9/3/2020

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CHARLESTON, WV – Today, 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.”

Click here to view the executive order
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.

“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.”








Top map of West Virginia shows areas of the state currently served with broadband access. Middle map shows areas that would be covered through broadband development via the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Bottom map shows combined potential broadband coverage.
The Governor’s order temporarily suspends the Broadband Infrastructure Loan Insurance program’s regulatory caps. To maintain strict oversight, the Governor added that he has directed the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, under Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, to limit the applications approved from this fund to no more than is necessary for the first year of this program.

Gov. Justice also announced that he will propose legislation in the next legislative session to replace the caps on the use of these funds.

“Before a dollar is spent, the Legislature will come back into session, I’ll send up a bill, and they will actually review and establish the caps.” Gov. Justice said.

“This is what we’ve got to do to meet this October date; to be able to reach out and snag $766 million to cover up our state in broadband where we have deficiencies today,” Gov. Justice continued. “I am tickled teetotally to death because I think that this initiative will not only cover our state in broadband, but also be an incredible construction project that will employ hundreds if not thousands of people.

“We have now, in this situation, a truly bipartisan effort. Everybody has come together with ideas. This is anything but a Jim Justice idea. I just see the beauty of this gigantic deal for West Virginia. But we’ve all had meeting after meeting about this. Truly so many people have stepped up.”

Leaders from both the majority and minority caucuses of both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature – including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, and House Minority Leader Tim Miley – all signed a joint letter, requesting that Gov. Justice issue the executive order announced today.

West Virginia State Auditor JB McKuskey, State Treasurer John Perdue, Senator Bob Plymale, and Delegate Daniel Linville also offered their support during today’s virtual briefing announcing the initiative.
Click here to view photo album
Senate President Mitch Carmichael

“Thank you Governor for this initiative and for explaining. I think you’ve done a great job explaining the program. It changes the paradigm in West Virginia from one of looking back to one of looking forward.

“This program, with your executive order and further legislative action, will enable 121,000 households in West Virginia to have world-class broadband service. So I want to thank you and thank those on the panel and say to the world that West Virginia is a beautiful, wonderful place to raise your family and this pandemic has highlighted all of those amazing benefits that we have in our state. 

“The only thing holding us back is connectivity to the outside world via world-class internet service and this program will break that traditional impediment to our growth and our prosperity so we can enable telehealth, distance learning, work-from-home initiatives, e-commerce, and just the safety and security of our state.”
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House Speaker Roger Hanshaw

“Governor Justice made the right call putting a high-priority focus on broadband connectivity. West Virginia cannot afford to miss out on $800 million for broadband expansion in our state. The Governor’s decision today to support more infrastructure construction is good for education, healthcare, business, and every other sector of society.”

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West Virginia State Auditor JB McKuskey

“As we try to rebuild West Virginia and move ourselves forward, as I communicate with people that are from my generation, the ability to move home to work is hampered by internet.

“I think as we’re moving past COVID, I think people are going to see places like West Virginia as a great alternative to the urban lifestyle. This is a place where you can find a community, where your church, school, and work, and home are all within five minutes of your house. If we can start to promote ourselves where we have that lifestyle, on top of having world class technology that enables a work-from-home initiative, I think that this is going to change the way that our economy runs, probably forever.

“The reason I love this plan so much is that it is fiscally responsible and it’s conservative and so what this does is it uses the power of the government, not to spend its money, but to make sure that private money is invested where it needs to be invested.”
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso

“I certainly believe this is the way to our future for our students, which is so important right now as parents are so concerned about sending their children to school. We’ve got to provide them with that safe opportunity.

“Education is on the forefront of everything I think about, and we’ve got to educate our students or we’re going to lose a generation and we can’t afford to do that.

“People want to come to West Virginia, they are staying away from the big vacation areas like Myrtle Beach, and they need to come to somewhere where they feel safe and also where one of the parents have the opportunity to work and if we’re going to provide this business opportunity, we’ve got to provide this broadband service.

“So I thank you for taking heed of our letter, we certainly appreciate that, and moving forward as expediently as you can.”
Senator Bob Plymale

“As a member of the broadband council, we’ve been reviewing this, looking at speed tests, looking at all the lack of opportunities we have to be able to expand broadband and this is one step that the Governor is really taking, with the legislature and with the broadband council, to move this state forward.

“I’m really tired of people outside of the state making decisions for us on broadband that we do not have a say in. This is the Governor taking the reigns and really making those decisions and letting us help make those decisions to get the underserved areas served.”
West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue

“Coming from southern West Virginia, I know how important this is going to be to all of rural West Virginia and how it’s going to change the game plan. 

“I want to give the Governor praise for what he has done to bring everyone together to make this happen.

“We have worked on water and sewage, we know how that changes West Virginia, we know the road structure and roads changed West Virginia, and now we’re putting the final piece together I think – broadband – bringing the high-tech internet access technology to all of West Virginia, especially the rural counties of this great state.”
House Minority Leader Tim Miley

“I think it’s important for us to always remind ourselves, it doesn’t matter how much we talk about the great place West Virginia is to live and work and have fun, what’s most important is for people outside of the state to know that...and when we expand opportunities for them, such as broadband build up in our state, we become that appealing place where other people from outside the state and around country want to come and live.”
Delegate Daniel Linville

“There are significant penalties if providers don’t perform and that’s what is different this time.

“This is going to be lasting infrastructure, so once we get past COVID, we get past all the current crises, this infrastructure is still going to be there. Ten years from now, I hope very much that we’re looking back on this like the slam dunk that it is.”
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Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also provided a statement in support of the initiative:

“I’m grateful to Governor Justice for continuing to look for ways to expand our broadband infrastructure in West Virginia and believe this rural program provides our citizens with a huge opportunity to bridge the digital divide and truly grow as a state.  As the pandemic taught us, ensuring that all of our citizens are able to connect online is one of the single most important things that West Virginia can accomplish in upcoming years.

“I look forward to working with the Governor and Legislative to pursue all legal means to take advantage of Covid-related broadband opportunities and other funding measures to move our state forward.”

Contact Information

Jordan Damron, jordan.l.damron@wv.gov

Contact

Office of the Governor
State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E
Charleston, WV 25305

Office Phone:
304.558.2000 or 1.888.438.2731

Governor's Mansion:
304.558.3588

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Banner Images Courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Commerce

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