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West Virginia Lawmakers Seeking More Oversight on Broadband Expansion

Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography - Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, introduced a bill to provide more oversight for the new Department of Economic Development and hold internet service providers accountable.

CHARLESTON — Hoping to not make the same mistakes as the past when it comes to broadband expansion, lawmakers are looking at a bill that will give them more oversight and say in how the state spends its broadband and economic development dollars.

House Technology and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4001. His committee learned more about the bill Monday afternoon. HB 4001 would create the Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Economic Development Accountability.

The new commission would consist of 14 members from the House of Delegates and state Senate from all committees dealing with infrastructure and economic development, with Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, as non-voting members.

The commission would create a line of communication between the Legislature and the department as it prepares to spend millions of mostly federal dollars on broadband expansion projects across the state.

“From a policy perspective, we want to make sure those policies that we attempt to put into place are being followed through upon, and that we keep the dialogue open between the executive branch and the legislative branch all throughout the year on these initiatives,” Linville said in an interview prior to Monday’s meeting.

The Legislature already has joint oversight commissions for the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Department of Transportation – all agencies that received millions of state taxpayer dollars and federal funding.

West Virginia is set to receive $138 million for broadband expansion through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The state can also use part of the $1.355 billion it’s receiving through the American Rescue Plan for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion. And Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in November, West Virginia will receive at least $100 million broadband coverage.

Aside from creating the oversight commission, HB 4001 also creates a number of funds to invest dollars for various broadband programs, such as middle mile broadband expansions, pole replacement and relocation, conduit installation and right of way mapping.

“House Bill 4001 is our next effort in further expanding broadband and enhancing the broadband that people currently have, as well as protecting the consumer,” Linville said. “One of the things we’re doing from a funding standpoint is creating the buckets we can put money into … These can be unexpected costs and we want to make sure they’re accounted for.”

HB 4001 will be taken up by the committee at a later date.

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