CHARLESTON – Senator Chris Walters, R-Putnam, has sponsored a bill that aims to greatly expand broadband access throughout the state by developing a broadband middle mile infrastructure.
Based upon an economic impact study done by West Virginia State University, in the first year, the 2,600-mile project would create approximately 4,000 jobs and contribute nearly $1 billion to West Virginia’s GDP.
Currently, West Virginia ranks 50th in the country for broadband speed, and rates 51st (behind American Samoa) in broadband technology. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission recently stated that 56 percent of the state’s urban residents don’t have access to broadband service, and 74 percent of West Virginia’s rural areas go without.
“A lot of people come here and ask what bills can we point to that create jobs?” Senator Walters said. “This legislation will absolutely create jobs. This bill creates 4,000 permanent jobs, year one.”
Senator Walters noted that improving West Virginia’s broadband service is critical to economic development. Both Amazon and Sysco have located distribution centers in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has a similar broadband infrastructure to what this bill would create. That city has seen a $300 million boost in its GDP.
“If we build this infrastructure and give West Virginia the most affordable and fastest fiber internet connectivity in the United States, we will be a world player in high-end, high-paying jobs,” Senator Walters said. “Let’s diversify our economy; let’s, as a state, build this infrastructure and allow businesses, universities, and schools to utilize it for the betterment of our citizens.”
Senator Walters is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 459. The bill was co-sponsored by Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; Senator David Nohe, R-Wood; Senator Bob Williams, D-Taylor; Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; Senator Gregory Boso, R-Nicholas; and Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone. The bill is currently before the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure, which Senator Walters chairs.