CHARLESTON. – A House of Delegates committee has sent a comprehensive bill meant to make it easier to develop and expand broadband and high-speed wireless technologies in West Virginia.
On Jan. 16, the Committee on Technology and Infrastructure approved House Bill 2005, also known as the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019, on a unanimous voice vote. It’s the third in a series of bills the Legislature has considered in the last three years to promote broadband development and expansion in the state.
“The Broadband Expansion Act of 2019 is a tremendous effort after collaboration between all levels of government, interested parties, and internet service providers to expand high-speed internet connectivity for all West Virginians and position the state as a leader in the adoption of 5G cellular technology access,” said Committee Vice Chairman Daniel Linville (R-Cabell), who is the lead sponsor of the bill. “For too long, West Virginia has fallen behind the rest of our nation in access to the greatest library in human history – the internet.
“This bill positions West Virginia better than ever before to connect our residents, students and businesses to the entire world.”
Among other things, the bill:
- Includes “Make-Ready Pole Access” provisions to require electric utilities to study whether it would be feasible to provide broadband service technologies on their existing distribution and transmission infrastructure. This activity would be overseen by the state Public Service Commission.
- Establishes the “West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act,” which will allow broadband providers to use existing rights-of-way and utility poles to place next generation wireless and broadband technologies. This will make it easier for them to use existing infrastructure to deploy technologies, dramatically reducing capital costs.
- Creates the “Wireless Technology Business Property Valuation Act,” which creates a special method of evaluating the valuation of wireless technology for tax purposes to reduce costs and encourage investment. This would give developers a greater incentive to construct wireless technologies in the state.
“If we truly want to make West Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family, we have to do all we can to promote high-speed internet technologies across our state," Hanshaw (R-Clay) said. “We have made tremendous strides in the past few years, and are now a national leader in adopting new legislation to promote broadband development.
“This bill will further send the message that West Virginia is eager and open to embrace the latest broadband and wireless technologies the private sector has to offer.”
Linville said the bill would help every West Virginian.
“Together, and with every interested party involved, we are working to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit and further the imagination,” he said. “The creativity of our citizens is limitless. In bipartisan fashion, we will work together to give West Virginians the access they deserve and make this an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”
The bill now will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee before it heads to the full House of Delegates for a vote.
In the state Senate, the Committee on Government Organization reviewed Senate Bill 3, which would establish the West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Act.
The Senate bill would provide for access to public rights of way for small cell wireless facilities. The legislation provides for certain municipal or county permit requirements and provides for the collection of fees. It also sets forth provisions for local zoning, indemnification, insurance, and bonding requirements.
Legislative findings stated that small wireless facilities are critical to delivering wireless access to advanced technology, broadband and 911 services to homes and businesses across the state and providing for further economic vitality.
Senator Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) moved to amend the bill by increasing the overall small cell installation fees from $55 to $90. And, Senator Dave Sypolt (R-Preston) said he hopes new broadband services would help to support underserved and rural areas of the state.
The bill passed out of the committee on a voice vote and will head to the Senate floor for consideration and possible passage.
The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce said he said better broadband access is needed for West Virginia businesses, consumers and residents.
"Broadband is critical for our state’s success," Steve Roberts told The West Virginia Record. "In the age of the internet and electronic communications, speed and connectivity are high on the list of must haves in infrastructure. Truly more is better."