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Manchin, Capito fight for broadband access

Education Alliance sponsored an Ed Talk Webinar on Broadband Access in West Virginia last Tuesday. Thanks to Randolph County Educational Technology Director Hilary Ramsey, I was able to hear four speakers talk on what government can do to help kids get connected. We are a long way from providing high-speed internet in the homes of all local school children. Nevertheless, our two WV Senators are working in a bi-partisan effort to tackle this problem.

Sen. Manchin was the first speaker. He works in cooperation with Sen. Collins from Maine to bring broadband to rural areas. The FCC has claimed mistakenly that 98% of West Virginians have access to high-speed internet. Manchin is making every effort to dispel that misperception, and to increase service throughout the state with programs like “Reconnect” in Lewis County.

The senator said that “Tele-Health” and “Tele-Teach” have been used effectively during the Covid-19 Crisis. He focused on the success of a Co-op in Hardy County and encouraged citizens to communicate with the federal government to make their needs known. Manchin is particularly concerned about counties like Randolph with large percentages of federal land where families are isolated and unable to access high-speed internet that can support learning.

Sen. Capito supports the internet initiatives started by Senators Manchin and Collins, and she is interested in Hotspots for Education. Capito is concerned about the fact that Frontier is in bankruptcy and may not fulfill its obligations to customers in our region. She recognizes the need for reliable internet service for business, education, and healthcare in rural West Virginia. Lack of connectivity is a billion dollar problem.

Ron Hilton of WV Broadband Enhancement Council spoke third. He said broadband is not really available in West Virginia because we do not have an internet exchange within the state. We use exchanges in surrounding states, but we do not have our own, and we need more direct connection.

Hilton looks forward to $800 million in federal dollars dedicated to educational internet options.

We need more “Mobility public-private partnerships” and more towers in the mountains.

Finally, Clayton Burch, WV Superintendent of Schools, spoke on the idea that American public education is “the great equalizer.” During the Covid-19 Pandemic equity of access to the internet is the only way to ensure equal opportunity for public education. Equity and access are impacted by the affordability of internet services. According to Re-entry Task Force education is the key.

Students without access to high-speed internet are on the wrong side of the “Digital Divide,” and it is time to create mobile Hotspots in West Virginia to help students cross that Digital Divide.

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