WINFIELD — An internet service provider is developing plans to invest more than $10 million to help provide Putnam County with “some of the best internet in the state.”
Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, announced a plan this week that could connect his district through fiber-optic broadband internet.
Gov. Jim Justice signed into law House Bill 3093 in April, a bill designed to promote competition among internet providers and expand broadband access through various methods.
The bill allows up to 20 families or businesses to form nonprofit co-ops that provide a broadband service. Three cities or counties can also band together to build their own broadband networks, according to a previous Gazette-Mail report.
“We passed a broadband bill that would essentially allow for parties of 20 people or more to come together and create a broadband infrastructure. This is going to help for small communities, rural communities, to really develop their own infrastructure, rather than waiting for larger companies — Frontier or whatever other provider — to build it for them,” Higginbotham said during a Putnam County Commission meeting this week.
Higginbotham said his plan would allow for providers to build broadband infrastructure in a “triangle” between Charleston, Huntington and Parkersburg and the surrounding areas — including Putnam County.
Although those cities are not in his district, Higginbotham’s district encompasses smaller rural communities that are a “short driving distance” from the three cities.
His plan would connect the communities in his district to the larger cities — making it a “large metropolitan area for communications and broadband,” he said.
A company has already expressed interest in building the infrastructure that would connect Charleston to Huntington, he said, running through Putnam County.
Because the company is still in the “development phase” of its potential $10 million broadband project, Higginbotham said he could not name the company. However, he said, an announcement could come this summer.
The plan, he hopes, would make it easier for businesses in his district, spurring economic development. The plan would also help rural areas without affordable and reliable internet have “21st century technology,” he said.
“Our rural communities have very little access to internet and cellphone service. Having better broadband would allow home companies and small businesses in rural West Virginia to hook up to the internet in a very affordable manner,” Higginbotham said. “This will allow for our small businesses and rural communities to have the internet that they really, really deserve.”