Expanding Web Access in W.Va.

Before public money is spent to accelerate Internet connections at households already enjoying high-speed service, it ought to be used to provide broadband access to those who lack it entirely. That seems obvious.

Apparently not, to some members of the West Virginia Legislature. Among bills being dealt with during the closing days of lawmakers’ current session is one on that topic. The measure would require the state Broadband Deployment Council to give priority for public funding to Internet access companies with plans to extend service to areas which lack it entirely.

About 11.4 percent of the state’s households are in that situation. That means approximately 85,000 households lack any high-speed Internet service.

Debate in the state Senate over the measure focused on whether preference should be given to providing first-time broadband service instead of proposals to increase connection speeds for areas already enjoying it.

But high-speed Internet service, especially for educational purposes, has become nearly a necessity.

Think of it this way: Should public funding go first to extend water lines to areas lacking service entirely, or to projects meant to increase water pressure to those already connected to municipal or public service district lines? Assuming adequate, if not stellar, pressure exists in the already-served areas, the answer seems obvious.

As action in the state Senate and House of Delegates accelerates and becomes more chaotic in anticipation of the midnight Saturday adjournment, it is impossible to say how the bill in question will fare.

But the Broadband Deployment Council should not require a directive from legislators to decide the issue on its own. Council members should use scarce public funds – about $2 million for the purpose during the coming year – first to provide high-speed Internet connections to areas lacking them, and then to accelerate speeds in areas already connected.