The expansion of broadband service has appeared as a topic in the news quite a bit lately.
In Thursday’s edition, we reported an announcement from the office of Senator Joe Manchin regarding the awarding of just over $18,000 from the Federal Connectivity Emergency Fund to help provide wireless internet service and broadband and to purchase computers and other equipment.
The award was part of approximately $561,000 announced for the state, with the Mineral County School District and Cabell County Schools also receiving funding.
In recent years, many of our local public school districts have invested in similar technology, providing computers or tablets to their students and establishing Wi-Fi hotspots in schools to use when they have needed to switch to distance learning as part of pandemic precautions.
These efforts are good news for our education systems, as technology evolves and course delivery changes with it. Improved Internet service makes it easier for teachers and students to access information, improving what is available in the classroom. It also provides a way to connect with others, including guest speakers, subject matter experts, or other classrooms.
In the wider community, officials from the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission visited county commissions throughout the northern panhandle, garnering support for an ongoing effort to install a broadband network “spine” network in the region.
A few years ago, discussions had taken place between Hancock and Brooke county officials, who joined forces to lobby state officials for funds to help expand the broadband. At some point over the past year, these efforts expanded to include Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties, with the current proposal to have the “spine” run from New Martinsville north to Chester.
BHJ Executive Director Mike Paprocki was at the Hancock County Commission meeting on Thursday and spoke with Brooke County Commissioners last week, providing an update on efforts and noting that funds from the plan US bailouts could be used to cover all local costs.
For Hancock County, there are four optional branches that officials are discussing to provide additional service areas, and it was noted that officials are particularly interested in ensuring that broadband service is provided in the area of the north of Weirton, which is currently the focus of economic development efforts in the Region.
It would be a smart move, of course, as it would further improve ongoing service efforts and hopefully make these areas more attractive to businesses and industries looking for a new home. When these businesses choose to locate in our area, it means new jobs, new taxes and better services, possibly new residents. These developments would then stimulate further development, creating a cascade of growth.
On top of all this, the increase in broadband provides the opportunity to attract more internet service providers to the region. We currently only have a few viable providers, so if there is any chance of attracting more, it would stimulate some competition and perhaps even create an environment with better pricing options for residents and local businesses.
This is the kind of investment that our communities, and indeed our entire state, have needed for years. Tourism is great and has brought many benefits to parts of West Virginia, but we must prepare for the future while meeting the needs of our current society. Communication is essential in today’s world, and that includes internet and cellular access.
I can’t wait to see where it goes in the months to come.
(Howell, a Colliers resident, is editor of the Weirton Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)