West Virginia continues preparations for investing $138 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds committed to broadband internet expansion. That includes accurately mapping statewide internet availability, or lack thereof, down to the household level, Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael told the Joint Committee on Government and Finance on Tuesday.
Carmichael said mapping has proved challenging, since Federal Communications Commission maps, which rely on self-reported data from internet providers, have proved notoriously inaccurate.
He noted, for instance, that the FCC maps show that much of Southern West Virginia has internet service.
“There are different satellite internet providers that show they are served, when we know they are not,” he said.
Carmichael said the federal grants allow states to exclude nonterrestrial internet providers in determining service availability, and West Virginia will do so.
He said the self-reported FCC maps are accurate on one level, noting that, when the maps show areas with no service, “You can bet your life there’s no service there.”
Carmichael said the state is trying to refine the map, initially breaking the state down into served, unserved, likely served and likely unserved — the latter being locations the FCC shows as having internet service, when the service actually is either substandard or nonexistent.
Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said many of his constituents are concerned that the broadband expansion will overlook those places that currently have slow, spotty internet service.
“There’s a concern out there that they not be forgotten,” he said.
“Actually, they’re the focus,” Carmichael responded.
He said West Virginia is working with 15 internet service providers to help identify available networks to further refine the map.
“We will know at that point who is served and who is not,” he said.
Carmichael said he is optimistic the state will be ready to proceed as soon as the broadband funds are released.
“These programs are already up, already in place,” he said.
Legislators have requested updates on the broadband expansion initiative each time the joint committee meets.