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February 18, 2021     The Pocahontas Times
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Priority, from page 1 The reality is likely worse than the FCC reports. Their statistics are based on self- reported data submitted by Frontier, and almost no one outside the company trusts it. Speed tests conducted by the state’s Broadband Enhance— ment Council found that Frontier delivered internet across the state at less than half the 25 megabits per sec- ond required by the Federal Communications Commis- sion to qualify as “high- speed.” So lawmakers want to try a new approach. Promoting competition The lawmakers’ vision is simple: replace Frontier’s monopoly over the state’s rural intemet service with a patchwork of competitors, including West Virginia companies and local govem- ments like cities and coun— ties. A combination of competition and local own- ership, politicians reason, will ensure that the state’s communications network is upgraded and maintained long into the future: a task that Frontier has shown itself either incapable or unwilling to do. And now, the roadmap that lawmakers will take to try to make this happen is becom- ing clearer. First: provide a leg up for Frontier’s com- petitors, who, unlike the telecommunications giant, don’t have access to billions of dollars in capital from Wall Street. Two bills have already been introduced during this year’s legislative session to help achieve this. One, SB 2, would codify into law Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order increasing the amount of loan guarantees the state will offer telecommunication companies. These loan guar— antees are crucial because they allow smaller compa- nies to compete for subsidies from the Federal Communi— cations Commission, which looks at a company’s balance sheet in order to determine if it’s capable of delivering on its commitments. The second, HB 2002, would make it faster and cheaper for telecommunica- tions companies — and local governments — to install fiber by allowing them to piggyback on the poles and trenches of other utilities. This bill has bipartisan sup- port, and has already sailed through committee and will soon be debated on the House floor. The bill’s sponsor, Dele- gate Daniel Linville, R-Ca— bell, summed up its potential imes .com 0 Print and Online $49 ham@pocahontast - In-County ~ $30 ' In-State ~ $38 Call 304-799-4973 or email 0 Out-of State $39 ' Online only $29 jsgra m 9 fl 6‘ M = c .5 Our '5: o m .9 5 (I: l U) cu .§ El 5 E O u: as 8 9-: era .5 E Service at 3:301). (wit/7 safety protocolr) or ONLINE: Facebook ' YouTube’ '1 via teleconference “6375 lie I 1pc. luthenan Chunch "Carl 3‘ Ivor/e, om‘ [nun/5. " llllliiit‘hAhA SPRINGS prmemmemeanm fis’mm 323519». 353?? 8‘. cs‘ 28‘ sit/es“ w as“ («at V)“ Wm" impact: “It’s going to speed deployment. . . it makes more projects feasible.” But that’s not all the bill would do. It also lays the groundwork for more state and local control of West Virginia’s broadband net— work, and defines the role of the state’s new Office of Broadband, which will be tasked with mapping the areas of the state that are cur- rently unserved — and un- derserved — by Frontier and other telecommunications companies. Historically, this is a role played by the FCC — but their data is flawed. The fed— eral agency also continues to send hundreds of millions of dollars to Frontier — so state officials want to take over the responsibility of identify— ing underserved areas of the state, a crucial part of any ef- fective grant-making pro- gram. Finally, the bill enshrines in law the ability of cities and counties to compete with telecommunications compa- nies and build their own fiber networks; this is a strategy already being attempted in Putnam County and South Charleston. A majority of states ban the practice, but West Virginia is now actively promoting it. But where is the money? Efforts by state lawmakers to fight Frontier are not new. Lawmakers have long chafed at Frontier’s treat- ment of the state. But this time may be different. This time, lawmakers have prom- ised to back up their rhetoric with money. In October, the governor stood on the steps of the Capitol, flanked by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R- Clay, and other Republican lawmakers, and promised to bring a billion dollars to West Virginia to build better broadband. But Justice has a history of making grand promises that never materialize, and there have been warning signs that that could happen again. The governor included $50 mil- lion in CARES Act pan— demic relief funds in the billion-dollar commitment — but used much of it on un- related projects. The bulk of the remaining funds was sup- posed to come from the Fed- eral Communications Com- mission, but the agency has o<®®f§3§3§§é® so far committed only $350 million, a result of aggres— sively low bidding by Fron— tier as the company promised to build more fiber for fewer subsidies. And then there’s the $150 million over three years from the state that Justice prom- ised in October. Since mak- ing the announcement, the governor has offered no ad- ditional details about where the money will come from or how it will be distributed. It wasn’t mentioned in the gov- ernor’s annual address, where the governor alluded to “bold steps” he’d already made on broadband while warning “we got to do more.” Nor was it included in a draft budget given to legislators earlier this month. “I’m looking through [the budget] thinking — OK, doesn’t appear to be a prior— ity — because you’re not talking about it, you’re not giving us a plan, and there’s no money to fund it,” said Delegate Joey Garcia, D— Marion. But Republican lawmak- ers said not to worry. The money is coming, House Communications Director Ann Ali said after conferring with Hanshaw in a Capitol hallway. Linville was also confi- dent that the legislature will find the money. Lawmakers could directly appropriate the money out of the state’s surplus, he explained, which could circumvent some of the laborious budgeting process. But broadband isn’t law— makers’ only priority, and whatever plan they come up with will eventually land on the govemor’s desk. Justice has made clear that his top priority is reducing taxes, and that he wants to use the surplus to create a rainy day fund “for any shortfalls [re- sulting from the] elimination of our income tax.” His office did not respond to a request for comment. Regardless, a compromise will happen, Linville said. He expects to see a bill, or multiple bills, soon that would establish both the fund and “guardrails” for spending it. “Those conversations are ongoing,” he added. Reach reporter Lucas Manfield at lucasmanfield@ mountainstatespotlight.org to“ VISIOII, from page 2 lowest paid in the country, went on strike statewide over the rising costs of their health coverage and for bet- ter wages. They ended up with 5% raises, and the gov- ernor convened a health care task force. In 2019, they went on strike again, over legislation that would have put public money toward private schools and charter schools. Similar legislation is under consideration this legislative session, which began Wednesday. And on the first day of the session Wednesday, Sen. Pa- tricia Rucker, R-Jefferson and a leading proponent of school choice measures, in- troduced a bill to make work stoppages illegal. She has also said she wants to focus on the teacher shortage this year. West Virginia lawmakers have said school choice leg— islation will be a priority this year, meaning they want to encourage parents to send their kids to private and char- ter schools. They also want to make way for education savings accounts in West Virginia, which would allow parents to use public money for ex— penses like private school tu— ition, charter school tuition, and home-schooling. , Teachers unions have ar— gued that this legislation, by taking money from public schools, would hurt schools already struggling to meet the needs of students from lower—income families. Na- tional data suggests school choice measures in other states leave children from low-income families in the least-funded schools. Growing the tax base with broadband Besides raising the sales tax, Justice also proposed raising severance taxes on coal, natural gas and oil; in- creasing the tax on cigarettes and soda; taxing professional services; taxing the wealthy and cutting state spending. Combined, he said these changes could make up the first billion dollars in lost in— come tax revenue. But he predicted West Vir- ginia’s tax base will grow as BACKUP Super Crossword FUNCTION ACROSS 48 With B-Down. 96 Funny feline DOWN 42 River duck 83 Actress 1 “When — 1859 George photo meme 1 Gandhi of 43 Many heirs Edie yOur age Eliot novel 99 Musical India 45 Sprang 85 Cotoraoo 5 Having two 51 Cal. neighbor group playing 2 Ferret‘s kin 48 24-hr. 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Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, is the chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure committee. He said that after years of state leaders promising high- speed Internet access to West Virginians, he understands skepticism. He said there’s reason to believe, however, that his and others’ more re- cent work on the problem should give state residents reason for hope. He noted that the West Virginia Broadband En— hancement Council released a statewide broadband avail- ability map, which is based on speed tests taken by West Virginia residents, instead of provided by companies. He’s proposing they make a law that the speeds be reported by consumers instead of companies as part of House Bill 2002, which passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The map would be up- dated every year, Linville said. And it will give law- makers the information they need to tailor funding and policy-making toward areas of need, he said. The new Office of Broadband will be able to tailor its efforts as well, he said. He also said that in budget shortfall years, there was no money to put toward broadband. “We’ve actually got the means to measure success or failure,” he said. Linville said he plans ad- ditional broadband legisla- tion and agreed with Justice that remote workers may move to the state. “We’ve got a low cost of living,” he said. “We’ve got incredible people.” “West Virginia was the butt of a lot of bad jokes, right? Look, name your state. You’re gonna have some missteps, right? “But you have to admit that we have definitely ——February 18, 202l—Page 5 arms as vases @rIQ/Zéé («‘h'l’e‘k’mfm‘ changed that narrative around the state of West Vir- ginia in a positive direction overall.” West Virginia’s image West Virginia’s successes — including those related to COVID — were also a com— mon theme during Justice’s address. The state has a high vaccination rate, and has re- ceived national praise for that and early efforts to vac- cinate all nursing home resi- dents. “They thought we were backward or we were poor. I don’t subscribe to that, and I know you don’t either,” Jus- tice said. But the state is not out of the woods. The pandemic has killed more than 2,180 people in West Virginia. Ac- cording to a survey from the US. Census Bureau con- ducted from January 6 to January 18, 35.7% of sur— veyed adults in West Virginia found it somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses during the pandemic. Justice didn’t outline any plans to put additional money toward public health emergency response infra— structure or assist the West Virginians still struggling to put food on the table and pay for their homes and utilities due to COVID—related finan- cial loss. The state still has more than $600 million in unspent federal CARES Act money; Justice has said that money will go toward the unemployment trust fund. Democrats have noted that West Virginians are strug— gling with poverty due to COVID-l9, but their plans are unclear. They have said, in events preceding the ses— sion, that they support help for small businesses and summer learning and feeding programs. This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. For more stories from Mountain State Spot- light, visit www.mountain statespotlightorg Reach reporter Erin Beck at erinbeck@m0untainstate spotlightorg I, , 2N CoHegesch. available for 2021 interested in being a journalist or working in the media industry? The West Virginia Press Association Foundation is accepting student applications for 2021 West Virginia Press Association Scholarships. if awarded, the WVPAF provides scholarships to West Virginia residents to a West Virginia college or university for up to $1,000. Programs are open tojournalism majors and students in related fields such as business management, human resources, advertising, social media and marketing, with preference given to students in at least their sophomore year of college. Application deadline is Feb. 28, 2021. Applications may be downloaded from varess.org For information orto have the applications mailed, contact Executive Director Don Smith at donsmith®varess.org, at 304342-1011 or write to: WV Press Association Foundation, 3422 Pennsylvania Ave, Charleston, WV, 25302. staffing and successful operation Student Media is responsible for experience. I Budgeting and supervising a effectiveness. IValid driver's license I Resume I Letter of Interest WANTED: DIRECTOR OF STUDENT MEDIA AT WVU The Division of Student Life atWestVirginia University is seeking applications for a Director of Student Media. This position reports to the executive director of Student Enrichment and is responsible for the management, budgeting, of the Daily Athenaeum, U92 The Moose and Prospect and Price Creative.The Director of all aspects of Student Media and for implementing innovative practices that result in respected and appreciated news organizations and profitable business operations; ensuring a welcoming community; and providing students valuable experiences and opportunities that prepare them for success upon graduation. QUALIFICATIONS I Master’s degree in journalism and/or Communications or related field, or equivalent combination of education and related IA minimum of six (6) years of experience involving: I Print or broadcast journalism I Design and development of a communications plan staff I Experience working in the higher education setting preferred I Editing, budgeting, excellent interpersonal and social skills. IAbility to perform assessments to determine program I Experience leading a news organization through change, creating innovative and experimental coverage. REQUIREMENTS Apply at careers.wvu.edu (l 6 l 39) WVU is proud to be an Equal Opportunity employer and is the recipient of an NSF ADVANCE award for gender equityWVU values diversity among its faculty. staff. and students. and invites applications from all qualified applicants regardless of race, ethnicity. color. religion. gender identity. sexual orientation. age. nationality, generics. disability. orVeteran status.