MILTON — An extensive broadband development project by social media giant Facebook will follow a route that includes Milton, Barboursville and Huntington, a spokesperson with Facebook confirmed Friday.
“For security reasons we typically don’t discuss exact routes; however, I can confirm that the route will go through the communities of Milton, Barboursville and Huntington,” the spokesperson said. “Our engineering firm is actively reaching out to the municipalities along the route and discussing the permitting process.”
Facebook, through its subsidiary Middle Mile Infrastructure (MMI), announced last year that it’s building a high capacity fiber-optic cable network to connect two data centers they have in Ashburn, Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio, as directly as possible, including from the eastern to the western border of West Virginia.
A building permit was approved by the Milton City Council for the project during its last meeting.
“We approved a building permit to Excel Utility Contractors LLC of St. Louis, Missouri, for the MMI project,” Milton Mayor Tom Canterbury said. “The Milton route for this project comes up [U.S.] Route 60 heading toward Barboursville.”
Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum said Facebook has made inquiries with the village.
“We have only gotten inquires, but nothing formal at this point,” Tatum said.
Huntington’s communications director, Bryan Chambers, said Facebook has also contacted the city.
“We received preliminary inquiries from Facebook with the city’s IT department, but we have not received any official proposal or any permit applications,” Chambers said.
Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said Facebook’s investment is great news for the entire state.
“I’m excited for the future of broadband internet expansion all across the state, and especially in Huntington, Milton, Culloden, Ona and Barboursville,” he said. “The construction of this project and many others that are on the way for middle-mile fiber are the next steps in bringing higher speeds, reliability, choice and coverage to our communities. This will be game-changing for job creators here and businesses that are looking to locate here.”
Facebook has called the infrastructure work the New River Project, and said the primary purpose of the build has always been to connect its data centers and allow them to provide users with the best possible experience.
“Given these routes traverse through rural, underserved areas of the state, we also want to enable providers to leverage the fiber to bring solutions to the residents and will make excess capacity available,” the spokesperson said.
Back in November, Gov. Jim Justice joined representatives from Facebook, along with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and other federal and state leaders at Tamarack for a ceremonial groundbreaking event to commemorate the beginning of the project.
Capito said Friday that making sure West Virginia has reliable, high-speed internet has been a priority since she was elected to Congress. She has been given credit for getting the project started after speaking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on April 10, 2018.
“I’m glad Mr. Zuckerberg followed through on his commitment he made to me during that hearing where I asked him to partner with West Virginia on rural fiber deployment,” she said. “I told him we need better connectivity in West Virginia, especially in our rural areas, and he agreed to work with us and allow us to use Facebook as a resource to get this accomplished.”
Capito said the project allows internet providers and municipalities in the communities along the route the capacity to offer truly high-speed internet service.
“With access to this internet infrastructure, broadband providers can expand middle-mile networks into communities along the route,” she said. “I’m excited for what a fully connected West Virginia can offer the rest of the country, as well as what it can do for the future of our state.”
The approximate 275-mile route through the state is expected to be completed sometime in 2021.
“We anticipate the project to be completed anywhere between six to 12 months as we navigate the recent challenges of COVID-19 and the weather,” the Facebook spokesperson said.