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Azeem Khan

Azeem Khan

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that reliable internet is a necessity if West Virginia is going to compete in the 21st century.

While our state might be wild and wonderful, it’s not wired and ready. Whether it’s for business, education, telehealth or anything else, West Virginia requires good access to the internet.

Fortunately, help is on the way, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., helped pass. The plan means that over $4 billion in funding will be pumped into West Virginia’s economy. The American Rescue Plan includes $138 million in direct funding for broadband infrastructure. Portions of the state’s allotment of $1.25 billion, and the local funding of $677 million, also can be utilized for broadband enhancements.

Manchin was the only member of West Virginia’s congressional delegation to support the bill and, without his vote, these funds would not be available to every county, city and town in West Virginia.

The millions designated for broadband will be a major boost for the state as we try to catch up with the rest of the world. According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly half of rural West Virginians don’t have adequate internet access, placing us far behind the rest of the country. This puts our students and businesses at a major disadvantage, an issue that Manchin recognized when he brought these funds to West Virginia.

Many young West Virginians like myself want a chance to stay in the state. But, for us to do so, our economy must be in the 21st century, so that there are opportunities for us. Through the upcoming investments in broadband, West Virginia will finally be able to compete with the rest of America. Access to high-speed internet no longer will be a challenge for our state’s citizens. Our state will be positioned to take advantage of the upcoming shift in which more people work from home than ever.

Once in place, these broadband enhancements will allow us to develop our workforce, give residents direct access to education and health care, and bring more visitors here to vacation.

While some politicians claim that all you must do is cut taxes and people will come, the reality is that few will move here if they are cut off from the rest of the world. On the other hand, if you can stay connected and, at the same time, enjoy the natural beauty of the state, then it is much easier to make West Virginia your home. This issue is one of the most critical we face, if we are to reverse the steady loss of population the state has experienced as of late.

Someday soon, thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s major investment in broadband infrastructure, West Virginia’s country roads will be wired, ready and competitive. We will have high-speed internet to compete in the global economy. I’m optimistic that this will be a turning point for our state, providing hope for the future and a reason for young people to stay.

Azeem Khan, of Charleston, is a student at West Virginia University.

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