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West Virginia Among First States Approved for ARPA Broadband Funding

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves his office moments after speaking with President Joe Biden about his long-stalled domestic agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Manchin is a pivotal Democratic vote on passage of the president's top legislative priority. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CHARLESTON – West Virginia is one of four states for which broadband expansion plans have been approved for funding through the federal government’s COVID-19 relief program.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and representatives of the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department announced Monday during a virtual briefing that West Virginia, Virginia, New Hampshire and Louisiana are the first states to have their plans approved for the $1.2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund.

“When you think about reliable, affordable, dependable, broadband access, it’s critical, absolutely critical, for West Virginians and anybody in America to do their jobs, complete their homework, keep up with their healthcare appointments and to compete in a 21st century economy,” Manchin said.

Gene Sperling, the White House American Rescue Plan coordinator, and Treasury Chief Recovery Officer Jacob Leibenluft were joined on a Zoom call Monday afternoon to announce the plan approvals, along with several senators, including Manchin, D-W.Va.

“The awards today, the first of many to be awarded in the months to come, mean that over a half a billion dollars will be dispersed to Virginia, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Louisiana, to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans and small businesses to high-speed internet,” Sperling said.

“We cannot have equal economic and educational opportunity unless all Americans and all regions, from urban to rural America, have access to high speed, affordable internet service, not only in their home, not only in their libraries, not only in their classrooms, but in their homes and with adequate speed so that parents can work at the same time, their children study,” Sperling continued.

The Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, supervised by the Treasury Department, is focused on distributing $10 billion in ARPA funding for broadband infrastructure projects. States had between Sept. 24, 2021, and Dec. 27, 2021, to apply for the fund program, and until Sept. 24, 2022, to submit a grant plan to the U.S. Treasury.

According to the U.S. Treasury, more than $136 million was allocated to West Virginia, with the state being approved to spend the full amount. The funding will help expand high-speed broadband to 20,000 locations, or 10 percent of locations in the state that lack access to broadband.

“President (Joe) Biden and this administration understood the urgent need to invest in increasing high speed, internet access, and affordability to help close the digital divide and level the playing field for all American families and businesses,” Leibenluft said. “That’s why we made it a priority to work with Congress to ensure the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund was included in the American Rescue Plan.”

The state Department of Economic Development put together four programs in the last year, with three of those programs approved for ARPA Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund dollars.

The funded programs include the Line Extension Advancement and Development Program, which will expand existing network line extensions; the Major Broadband Projects Strategies Program, which focuses on major broadband infrastructure investments; and the GigReady program, which will provide local government/matching broadband funding incentives.

The Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Development has spent the last year working on reliable broadband maps to show where unserved areas of the state are, building off of the previous work by the state Broadband Enhancement Council. The Department of Economic Development also has a program for rapid wireless deployment projects in the state.

“Without efforts to bring connectivity to rural areas, they will continue to lag behind,” Manchin said. “We need to take a transformative approach towards broadband that we took towards electricity in the (1930s).”

Plans approved by the Treasury Department through the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund are meant to provide access to citizens to high-speed internet, defined at 100 megabits per second in download and upload speeds. Internet service providers in states receiving Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund dollars through ARPA must participate in the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides up to $30 per month in discounts to low-income families to help pay for internet service.

According to the Treasury Department, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have secured commitments from 20 of the largest internet services providers to offer families eligible for the Affordable Connectivity program internet services for no more than $30 per month, allowing families that can’t afford internet access to free internet service.

West Virginia can also use part of the $1.355 billion it’s receiving through the American Rescue Plan for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion. The state received the final half of its ARPA state funding last month. Counties and cities are receiving a combined $679 million through ARPA that can also be used for broadband projects.

Including previous funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program, West Virginia is sitting on more than $1 billion dollars for broadband expansion. That’s not including the $100 million the state is expected to receive for broadband from the $1.2 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in November.

“I said it when I first announced my Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy and it remains true today: our students deserve to be able to do their homework, our seniors deserve access to telehealth, our businesses deserve to be able to reach their customers and suppliers, and all West Virginians deserve to be able to do all the things in daily life that require high-speed internet,” said Gov. Jim Justice in a statement Monday afternoon. “Today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction.”

“I could not be any more appreciative of the Treasury for making our West Virginia Coronavirus Capital Project Fund one of the first four such plans approved,” Justice continued. “Now it’s up to us to put these funds to good use bringing more of our communities into the 21st century and opening the door to a brighter future for our people.”

“Approval of our plan, modeled after many of our Legislative proposals for internet expansion funding, is a very welcome development,” said Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee and a non-voting member of the Broadband Enhancement Council. “The task now is deploying these dollars quickly and with accountability. I look forward to working with the governor, his team, and our federal partners to get the job done.”

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