Broadband bill removes first Senate hurdle from W.Va.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) — A bill that would hold Internet service providers more accountable in West Virginia cleared its first Senate committee on Wednesday morning, but not before remarks from the bill’s sponsor had helped convince a senator to withdraw several amendments.

The legislation, House Bill 4001, would strengthen consumer protections for broadband customers and provide a penalty for providers who mislead the state about compliance in carrying out state-funded projects.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the House proposal passed with the best of intentions, but he arrived at Wednesday’s meeting with several amendments.

“We are potentially creating excessive regulation that could reduce the speed of deployment and then add unnecessary cost to it,” Tarr told fellow lawmakers.

The State Department of Economic Development agreed.

His secretary, Mitch Carmichael, and director of broadband, said a provision requiring him to map rights-of-way and collect data on existing utility poles would cost $2 million and would duplicate work already done by other groups.

They also worried that a so-called death penalty to punish bad actors could deter broadband providers from working in West Virginia.

“There’s a concern that once we do one broadband bill a year, there’s no certainty, there’s no predictability with these programs,” Carmichael told reporters. senators.

The sponsor of the proposal, Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, offered a point-by-point rebuttal.

He claimed that much of the map data already existed. Having it, he said, is crucial to avoiding unnecessary delays in future broadband expansion.

He argued that the Attorney General and the Public Service Commission should be involved to preserve competition. He also backed his so-called death sentence by arguing that suppliers should be held accountable.

“So we have a pretty serious concern here,” he told senators. “My recommendation, as written here, is to make sure we do oversight and heavily penalize anybody who doesn’t do what they said they would do and got paid hundreds of millions of dollars. .”

It was enough to change Tarr’s mind.

“That’s the information I really wanted to hear and haven’t heard yet on this bill, so I’m withdrawing my amendments,” he said.

Tarr’s reversal on substantive changes means the legislation will remain largely intact.

Afterwards, Carmichael said the administration was supportive of the legislative process. He said his opposition was not strong enough to recommend a veto, should the proposal pass.

“For us, the bottom line is whether this helps or hurts broadband expansion? And our point of view is that it hurts, so we just wanted to make those points,” he said.

The bill would provide protections to ensure customers receive credits and refunds for service outages longer than 24 hours.

Additionally, the legislation would require companies to provide more than 30 days’ notice of any rate increases, including the expiration of promotion and special rates.

Those unable to resolve their dispute with the company may appeal to the state attorney general.

In addition, the legislation would prohibit service providers from requiring consumers to rent a specific modem and prohibit companies from charging certain fees, including fees to receive a paper bill.

Any credit due to the subscriber should be paid as soon as possible, in accordance with the law.

Linville’s so-called death penalty provision would prevent the broadband provider from receiving state grants, awards, purchases, leases, if the provider is found to be falsifying compliance/not -compliance with requirements of previous grants/funding it has received, such as claiming that it provided services to an area it did not have.

The proposal was quickly submitted to the Senate for further consideration, however, a minor amendment passed by the Senate Economic Development Committee will require the proposal to receive Senate and House approval before the end of the 60-day session. at midnight Saturday.

The amendment was passed to align House Bill 4001 with another proposal already passed by the Senate.

WSAZ contacted Frontier and Suddenlink for thoughts on the legislation. Suddenlink did not respond to the request. Frontier declined to comment on the matter.

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