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Governor unveils $1B West Virginia broadband expansion plan

By JOHN RABY Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is ready to move forward with a plan to expand long-sought broadband access in rural communities at a potential cost of more than $1 billion, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday.

The plan, which Justice called the largest investment in broadband in the state’s history, will combine federal and state funding with private-sector investments and aims to bring broadband availability to at least 200,000 additional homes and businesses.

“We’re going to change the trajectory of West Virginia in a bigger and better way,” Justice said at a event announcing the program.

The plan will combine the state’s $236 million commitment to $362 million in funding from the Federal Communication Commission and $120 million from other state and federal resources, the governor’s office said in a news release. Most of the state funding comes from its share of federal American Rescue Plan allocations.

The statement said the money will be allocated through competitive programs that draw additional matching funds from private sector and local government partners.

“We’re talking of something not just that is going to be life changing,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said. “This is generational changing.”

State Economic Development Director Mitch Carmichael said the plan will boost the ability for rural areas to offer distance learning, remote work and telehealth options.

Los Angeles-based data company BroadbandNow ranks West Virginia as the worst state for broadband coverage. The governor’s statement, citing FCC data, said at least 30% of the state’s rural homes and business lack adequate broadband access.

Funding will be allocated to specific locations after the state spent two years mapping broadband access and produced a list of underserved areas, the statement said.

About $10 million in state general revenue funds will be used to expand and improve existing wireless internet networks.