West Virginia Senate Committee Considers Shrunken Broadband Bill | News, Sports, Jobs

From left, Kelly Workman, Director of the Broadband Office, and Secretary of the Department of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael testified Wednesday on a broadband expansion bill. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — A priority bill for the West Virginia House of Delegates dealing with broadband expansion was considered by a Senate committee on Wednesday.

The Senate Economic Development Committee recommended House Bill 4001, generally relating to broadband, for passage Wednesday, though the bill still has to go through the Senate Finance Committee and go to the Senate before the end. of the session at midnight on Saturday.

HB 4001 has changed significantly since it was introduced at the start of the January 12 session and picked up the next day by the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee. Originally a bill aimed at both broadband expansion and oversight of the Ministry of Economic Development, the oversight commission created in the bill was removed.

Now the bill deals exclusively with broadband. HB 4001 creates a number of funds that can be used to extend fiber lines, broadband expansion projects, wireless project expansion, GigReady incentive projects, and more.

An amendment passed by the committee on Wednesday incorporates Senate Bill 494, creating the Open Access and Neutral Broadband Infrastructure Development Fund.

HB 4001 requires underground ROW disturbance mapping for fiber line installation review, and utility pole mapping for fiber connection. It also includes consumer protections, such as credit requirements for customers who have service interruptions greater than 24 hours, 30-day notice requirements to customers of service changes, and notification requirements. writing to customers stating that any unresolved issues can be filed as a complaint. with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General.

The bill prohibits Internet service providers from charging certain fees to customers, such as billing paper bills. No ISP can require a customer to rent company modems. It also requires telecommunications companies to receive qualifying telecommunications carrier status with the state’s Civil Service Commission.

The bill empowers the Attorney General’s office to check with the FCC to determine specific broadband commitments and obligations companies have made and compel companies to meet those obligations. The bill empowers the PSC to fine any company that misrepresents its compliance once the hearing is held. Companies would also be ineligible for future state subsidies.

“That’s what I called on my side of the aisle the purveyor death sentence”, said House Technology and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, the main sponsors of HB 4001.

“If the Public Service Commission has determined that someone has taken hundreds of millions of dollars and hasn’t done what they’re paid to do with a material misrepresentation, until they correct that lie and keep your word and build and serve what it is they were paid to build and serve that would mean they couldn’t participate in future grant programs from this state until they did what they wanted they were paid, said Linville.

In testimony Wednesday morning, commission chair Charlotte Lane said the eligible telecoms carrier status portion of the bill was problematic and would make more sense if the PSC managed all aspects of the process, including compliance and consumer protection.

“I think the Civil Service Commission is well equipped to deal with all of the provisions of the bill that relate to both the Civil Service Commission and the Attorney General. We have done this in the past. We handle consumer complaints. We deal with telecommunications providers. If you want to eliminate duplication, then whatever you want to do in this bill, the Public Service Commission can do it.

Kelly Workman, director of the Office of Broadband, said these regulations go far beyond what the federal government requires, which could scare away potential internet service providers.

“That seems wide,” said the workman. “Our concern is that we don’t want to see legislation in the state of West Virginia that goes beyond federal regulations; any regulations that impede our ability to connect people… we would not fund an organization that is under investigation or about which serious findings have been made, but we have concerns.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, is also a member of the Senate Economic Development Committee. During questions from Department of Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael, Tarr said he was concerned about the bill being late in the session with a possible cost that could warrant the bill going to the Senate Committee on finance.

“It has a second reference to Finance, so given how much time we’re in the session right now with this bill, hopefully we can sort out the financial issues in this committee as we go along, so that we don’t have to have a second referral to committee,” said Tarr.

West Virginia received $1.35 billion from the US $1.9 trillion bailout law, which can be used for broadband infrastructure projects. The state is receiving a separate $138 million for broadband expansion. An additional $678 million goes to counties and municipalities that can be used for broadband expansion.

Last year, the Department of Economic Development created several loan and grant programs to expand broadband to unserved parts of the state not already being developed under other programs. federal. Since the programs launched last June, the department has received 125 requests from internet service providers for 225,000 of the 300,000 homes without broadband.

Carmichael said annual broadband bills bringing major changes as internet service providers continue to work on broadband bills from the previous year would discourage businesses from expanding services in the state.

“Your goal is to bring internet to everyone in West Virginia…and the programs you’ve put in place over the past few years and the changes you’ve made to data and survey attachment requirements have been incredible. and have generated excellent results”, said Carmichel. “There’s a concern that once we make one broadband bill a year, there’s no certainty and there’s no predictability with these programs.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]

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