Make Broadband a Public Utility
What WV Can’t Wait ForAll West Virginians will have access to a reliable, broadband connection to the internet, at home, at work, and in every school.
Whose Side We’re On
- Real Economic Development
- Small Town Main Streets
- Kids who want to stay here when they grow up
- Small business owners who give back to their communities
- Visionaries who create good jobs here in long term, sustainable industries
- West Virginians who return home to start businesses
... and more. Click the links above to read stories from the trail.
What We’re Up Against
West Virginia ranks 47th among the 50 states for broadband connectivity. Fully half a million people, 30% of our state’s residents, have no access to a high-speed, reliable internet. This lack, felt most severely in our rural places (where nearly half of people have no access), limits education, economic development, tourism, business creation and expansion--and even where we and our kids choose to live.
Traveling the state, we see the effects daily. Calls dropped. 911 service outages are too frequent. Businesses unable to communicate with customers. Young adults leaving after college. Families parked late outside fast food restaurants along the highway so kids can access the internet for school.
It is no coincidence that West Virginia is one of the few states that has experienced significant population loss over the past decade, or that when growth has occurred in counties, they're in those that share a border with one or more other states.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Internet is as necessary to us today as electricity was in the 1930s and telephone service in the 1940s. We'll achieve universal, low-cost broadband by prioritizing West Virginians and the public good over price-gouging monopolies that provide inferior service and speeds.
We will follow the example of Ammon, Idaho--population around 16,000--which has the lowest internet price in the country: $10 for 100 mbsp. Ammon has been able to expand access and lower costs by not only giving consumers plenty of choice about their service, but also treating broadband as a true public utility.
We'll end Frontier’s monopoly, increase competition, drive costs down--and quality up--by extending broadband to rural areas in much the same way electricity and telephone services expanded nearly a century ago. By making it possible for local organizations and governments to create and own broadband as a public utility available to everyone, we can ensure that no community, no matter how small, will be left behind.
- Build the middle mile and end monopoly control. Using SB 459 (fiscal note) as a guide, we will lay 2,287.3 miles of fiberoptic cable and create 5,000+ jobs as a result of construction and operation. Local broadband co-ops will finance construction of the last mile with federal and state grants, as well as investment from the State Bank. This will also make it possible to grow our remote workers during the pandemic.
- Connect homes, businesses, and towns in West Virginia to high-speed Internet, wherever possible via a fiber-optic cable network operated as a public utility. This process has already been started in at least 27 West Virginia counties, and will best be accomplished by local organizations working to meet a desperate local need. We will also provide a technology tax break (in the form of an additional deduction) for remote workers in households making less than $91,000.
- Strengthen standards for Broadband connectivity, so that West Virginians across the state have what they need to conduct business and/or work from home.
- Net Transparency: Require each internet provider to accurately and publicly disclose its commercial terms of service, as well as five years of information regarding network management practices and performance characteristics, including disclosing any throttling of customers.
- Net Speed: Over time, raise standards to require providers to reach and maintain a 100 Mbps download speed and a 10 Mbps upload speed.
- Net Neutrality: Prohibit broadband service in WV from: (1) Blocking lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices; (2) Impairing or degrading—“throttling”—lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a nonharmful device; (3) Capping data; or (4) Engaging in paid prioritization.
- Invest in the WV Department of Technology, so we can coordinate improvements of our broadband service. We would allocate an additional $20 million annual budget to implement this plan ($3 million for increased staff with specialized knowledge, and $17 million to be used for a wide range of incentives and/or infrastructure to expand coverage). This office would also have the authority to censure and penalize monopolies like Frontier that engage in price-gouging.
- Advocate, energize and support local or district broadband improvement organizations that can secure funding and oversee infrastructure build-outs.
- Create a task force of existing entities to map the “middle mile” construction needed to properly integrate all West Virginia counties in the broadband network.
- Fight the providers head-on. This would include strengthening state-level anti-trust laws (including laws that target “franchise” agreements with local governments); giving the Public Service Commission the direction to advocate for ratepayers, and tasking agents within our new Corporate Crime and Political Corruption division (see full plan to Prosecute Political Corruption and Corporate Criminals) to work with the Office of Technology to investigate, pressure, and penalize corporate abuse of consumers. We will also force providers to clearly publish rate/speed tiers — and corporate and executive pay — in a way that is accessible to all consumers.
- Work with West Virginia’s Congressional Delegation to speed our efforts:
- Advocate for a change in federal grant procedures under which a Census district is categorized as “served” by high speed Internet if a single individual in the district can be shown to be so served. This loophole is being used by Frontier Communications to contest the awarding of grants to co-ops trying to build networks in seriously under-served areas.
- Seek federal grants to address the “homework gap” (West Virginia has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates among students) and fund efforts to broadcast signals from schools to surrounding communities.
- Work to ensure West Virginia communities are drawing down as much federal broadband infrastructure dollars as possible.
How We Pay For It
- $32.5 million/year total, paid for through the Robin Hood Tax Plan.
- $20 million/year total increase in budget for Office of Technology.
- $3 million per year for Office of Technology and staff to coordinate the broadband plan.
- $17 million per year would be allocated to nimbly and flexibly provide our communities what they may need in the moment, as determined by the office. This budget may be used to provide broadband infrastructure project grants, spur workforce development, incentivize local governments, provide legal services, or conduct feasibility studies as needed to help propel quick development of the middle mile and last mile infrastructure.
- $7.2 million dollars per year for the next ten years to fully fund the build-out of the middle mile.
- $5 million per year to provide a technology/remote work tax break that can be taken as an additional deduction on state income taxes for households making $91K or less ($100 per year per remote worker for 50,000 workers)
- $20 million/year total increase in budget for Office of Technology.
We can expect a 10-year impact of more than 5000+ jobs (calculating only $100 million of the $220 million 10-year last-mile investment). It's likely additional jobs will be created, as nearly half of rural West Virginians--and about 30% of West Virginians overall--do not have access to broadband, and every percentage increase in penetration creates jobs that pay "more than the average for manufacturing."
Doubling broadband speed in an economy has also been shown to increase GDP by 0.3%. For West Virginia, that works out to about a $200 million dollar increase. Among the reasons improving broadband leads to such growth is that it increases access to services, improves education, simplifies processes, makes locations more attractive to businesses, opens up telecommuting jobs throughout the state, and even increases access to healthcare through telehealth.
Frankly, we can't afford not to expand broadband in our state.
Every one of our New Deal plans was written by West Virginians.
- Our volunteers asked 11,000 of their neighbors, “What would you do if you were Governor?”
- Our candidates attended 197 Town Halls, taking notes in community centers, church basements, union halls, and small businesses.
- Educators met after work to start sketching out their perfect school.
- Nurses traded ideas on the picket line.
- Our county and constituency captains ratified a first platform in the fall of 2019 and updated it in the spring of 2020 to reflect the current pandemic.
But the legacy of this New Deal dates back to John Brown and Mother Jones, to the United Mine Workers of America and the suffragettes, to the Poor People’s Movement and the CIO.
No one politician or slate of candidates can win this plan alone. We need you.
If you have an idea for how to make this plan stronger, or if you would like to lend a hand to win it, contact our candidate for Governor Stephen Smith at email@example.com.