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Many areas of West Virginia lack access to broadband internet service. A federal program that could help overcome that is now caught in partisan arguments between the two candidates for governor.

The Herald-Dispatch published this editorial regarding broadband development:

It’s no secret that West Virginia needs better access to high-speed internet service. From manufacturers who need enough bandwidth for transferring large amounts to data across the ocean to children doing their school lessons from a fast food parking lot while school is shut down because of COVID-19, internet speeds in West Virginia leave much to be desired.

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice had some good news on that front. Or did he?

Thursday, Justice announced that he had signed an executive order that made West Virginia eligible to receive up to $766 million in broadband infrastructure through the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The program identified 121,000 households in the state that don’t have internet service and are eligible to be connected. Justice’s executive order removes the $50 million regulatory cap on the broadband infrastructure loan insurance program, which gives the state more flexibility to offer performance bonds to companies that bid on census tracts in the state.

Good news, right? Not according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is backing Justice’s opponent in the general election.

“West Virginia is not getting $776 million in federal funds through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund just because the governor signed an executive order saying he wants it to happen,” Manchin said in a statement released later in the day. “Unfortunately, as of the most recent FCC report on September 1st, there isn’t even a single Internet Service Provider in the state that’s eligible to bid on this funding right now.”

So now a need of businesses, health care, education and other important aspects of everyday life is caught up in partisan politics, which can only mean that progress will slow down or come to a stop while the two sides argue.

At one time, the availability of high-speed internet was a luxury. Today it is a game changer. It affects business opportunities, home values, education opportunities, entertainment and so many more parts of life. For whatever reason or reasons, West Virginia has lagged in obtaining this important public utility. In 2020 broadband connectivity is as much a utility as electricity, water and sewer service.

There’s a lot of talk going around about how smaller communities can attract telecommuters who no longer need to be in an office in the downtown of a large city. The mayor of Huntington has made recruiting those people one of his goals. The reality is, however, that no one is going to move their work to a state or a city that lacks widespread access to high-speed internet.

There is too much difference in available speeds between different areas of the state. In a time where high-speed internet can make a difference in so many ways, it’s clear West Virginia has a long way to go to being competitive with other areas.

It’s good that the two candidates and their supporters recognize this. Partisan word play is not going to solve the problem, however.

Here’s to hoping this important part of economic and educational development doesn’t become caught up in partisan politics.

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