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Senate debates broadband bill

by Zack Harold, The Charleston Daily Mail

Worried about the quality of Internet access in Possum Hollow, state senators on Wednesday voted to amend a House bill meant to require West Virginia’s minimum broadband internet speeds match the Federal Communication Commission’s standards.


I sincerely hate opossums, but I’m sure Possum Hollow is a great place to get a home-cooked meal.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, would require the state to direct future broadband grant money to areas with the lowest amount of broadband access.

Plymale said the amendment would ensure residents who currently do not have broadband Internet would get the service before the state Broadband Deployment Council chooses to upgrade service for residents already enjoying speedy Internet access.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, spoke in support of Plymale’s amendment.

Carmichael, who works for Frontier Communications, said the problem with broadband access in West Virginia is not speed, but access. He said there are currently 85,000 homes in the state that currently do not receive broadband Internet, other than through satellite connections. And while satellite Internet speeds may provide fast download times, Carmichael said latency is a big issue.

(To simplify the techie speak, that means a satellite Internet connection can communicate very quickly with your computer, but it takes significantly longer for your computer to communicate with the Internet. While simple browsing activities might not be affected, latency issues become much more annoying when users try to play video games online, for example.)

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who passed the broadband bill through his Government Organization Committee earlier this week, urged members to vote against Plymale’s amendment.

Snyder said House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, introduced the legislation and was happy with its existing language. He said the state’s Broadband Deployment Council, which oversees expansion of broadband Internet access in the state, also liked the bill as it arrived in the Senate.

"Everyone that deals with this thinks this is the way we should go," Snyder said.

By accepting Plymale’s amendment, Snyder said the Senate would only bind the hands of the broadband council from making decisions about state Internet access issues. He said the council looks at many factors when deciding how to spend grant monies but Plymale’s amendment would require them to look at only one factor — access — before any other.

"I trust the Broadband Council…to make those decision on into the future," he said.

Snyder said with satellite Internet now available, talking about access is a irrelevant.

"As we speak the entirety West Virginia is bathed in satellite signal at a capacity of five megabytes. So we’re already surpassing that standard in the entire state, unless you’re in a cave where you can’t get signal," he said.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, stood to ask Plymale and Carmichael if the amendment would preclude the Broadband Council from bringing service to areas already served by satellite Internet.

"If we have 10 folks up in Possum Hollow that have no access to broadband access, would they receive priority over the thousand people who only have two megabytes of broadband access?" he said.

Carmichael and Plymale both said the bill would ensure Possum Hollow residents get broadband before upgrades were made elsewhere.

While Barnes was clearly using "Possum Hollow" as a hypothetical rural hamlet, there are at least four communities in West Virginia that bear the name, in Summers, Mercer, Berkeley and Pocahontas counties.

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