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Revised bill would speed up Internet

By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia plans to follow the lead of the federal government when it comes to setting acceptable Internet speeds.

State lawmakers have revised a bill intended to bring faster Internet service to rural communities across West Virginia.

The amended bill (HB2979) would require West Virginia's minimum acceptable broadband speed to match standards set by the Federal Communications Commission.

"We are hopeful this will allow us to continue our strong work in bringing broadband to every West Virginia citizen," said Dan O'Hanlon, chairman of the state Broadband Deployment Council.

A previous version of the bill, which passed the House, would have raised West Virginia's minimum acceptable download speed to 6 megabits per second.

However, the Communications Workers of America and Frontier Communications objected, saying that the new standard would allow the state to subsidize other broadband providers to bring faster service to areas where Frontier already makes high-speed Internet available.

Under the compromise bill, West Virginia's minimum download speed would be 4 megabits per second -- the current federal standard. The minimum upload speed would be 1 megabit per second.

"The FCC is going to keep raising those," predicted Jim Martin, a Broadband Deployment Council member who supports the bill. "We're going to match the FCC standard going forward."

State law now sets 200 kilobits per second as the minimum download speed, one of the slowest limits in the nation.

Under the revised bill, the Broadband Deployment Council must monitor the FCC download speed standard and increase West Virginia's minimum speed within 90 days. The change would be posted on the State Register website.

"We hope this means we will not have to go back to the Legislature each time the definition of broadband changes," O'Hanlon said. "I'm delighted by the compromise crafted by the Senate."

The Senate's Government Organization Committee advanced the amended bill earlier this week. The full Senate is expected to take a final vote on the legislation by Thursday.

Higher speeds allow people to download web pages, music, videos and online games more quickly.

Broadband Deployment Council members proposed the bill to redefine download speeds to expand the pool of applicants seeking funds for projects that increase high-speed Internet service in rural areas.

In December, the council distributed $2.5 million for broadband projects, but held back another $2 million.

The bill also will allow the Broadband Council to distribute grant money for marketing projects designed to encourage people to subscribe to broadband in West Virginia.

Some GOP lawmakers have said the money should be spent to upgrade broadband networks -- not push people to sign up for Internet service.


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