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On the right path toward broadband coverage

It appears that maybe we are finally moving forward on providing broadband internet access to people in rural areas of West Virginia. The latest step was a measure introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., that would make it easier for internet providers to expand service into rural areas. The bill, titled the Gigabit Opportunity Act, would, according to The State Journal, provide temporary tax deferments to broadband providers and allow rural areas to establish “Gigabit Opportunity Zones” to attract those providers.

“The economic benefits of broadband are clear, especially in West Virginia,” Capito said. “Investments in broadband in our communities, coupled with smart public-private partnerships, can jump-start economic development and create jobs. The GO Act gives states flexibility, streamlines existing regulations and eliminates barriers to investment, so we can better connect our low-income and rural communities.”

As we have pointed out before, access to fast, reliable internet is just as much a part of our infrastructure as roads and water lines. Yet, the FCC reports as many as 30 million Americans have little or no access to high-speed internet.

The reason so many companies are not providing service in rural areas is because it is not profitable to do so. Capito’s measure would allow tax breaks and cut red tape for companies that choose to extend their service outside the more heavily populated areas. The introduction of the GO Act follows the passage of a bill by the West Virginia Legislature this session that would allow communities and small businesses to create broadband co-ops, making them eligible for federal grants. Gov. Justice signed the bill into law a few weeks ago.

The new law puts the state Broadband Council in charge of collecting data on internet service in the state and pinpointing where improved service is needed the most. We have to think that, with passage of the state broadband law and the introduction of Sen. Capito’s bill, we may be on the right path toward getting strong, reliable internet service to West Virginians, no matter what part of the state they may be. And, make no mistake about it, this could be a game-changer.

This could mean more jobs, not just for companies expanding their services, but for any firm looking to locate in West Virginia. In this day and age, business can’t function without good broadband service. The more communities we have that are connected, the better the chances are that new businesses will locate there.

Let’s hope efforts on both the state and federal level pay off and rural communities can catch up with other parts of West Virginia.

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