Capito’s plan to connect rural West Virginia gets results, draws praise

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) blueprint to bring high-speed internet access to every home, business and classroom in West Virginia has drawn support from both public and private organizations who praised the opportunities created by the initiative since it began in 2015.

Sen. Capito, the co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus and a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has engaged members of the administration and the broadband industry to bring affordable and reliable high-speed internet to rural areas of West Virginia.

Known as Capito Connect, one of the first major initiatives Sen. Capito undertook as senator, the plan outlines a three-step process to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas. The plan calls for gauging the benefits of internet connectivity in West Virginia, promoting public-private collaboration to eliminate and streamline outdated and duplicative programs, and advancing economic growth through innovation by offering broadband to users across all sectors.

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study found that 56 percent of West Virginia residents don’t have access to broadband services that meet its benchmarks, and in rural areas of the state that number climbs to 74 percent, according to a summary of Capito Connect released by the senator’s staff.

“Whether it’s expanding cellular service in Paw Paw and Lincoln County by initiating the search for providers, securing a multi-million dollar grant to provide internet access to nearly 4,000 West Virginians, hosting four visits with FCC officials to bring attention to our state’s broadband needs, increasing rural broadband funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, or holding listening sessions in all 55 counties to hear directly from West Virginians, we are making a difference,” Sen. Capito said in a video about Capito Connect released in June.

One highlight of Capito Connect is securing $600 million in the recently passed omnibus for the U.S. Department of Agriculture rural broadband pilot program, her office said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said there are still many parts of the country that lack broadband access and the economic opportunities that it brings.

“I’ve seen this firsthand in West Virginia — where Sen. Capito and I met with constituents and small businesses frustrated by their lack of high-quality broadband access,” Pai said. “That’s why we will continue working together to bring digital opportunity to every American by removing regulatory obstacles that unnecessarily slow down broadband deployment and by targeting universal service funding to expand high speed Internet service to unserved areas.”

Sen. Capito’s efforts have also drawn support from the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, the Charleston Area Medical Center (CMAC) and the Partners in Health Network Inc., NTCA-the Rural Broadband Association, the Region VII Planning and Development Council, and others.

“Sen. Capito’s forward thinking Capito Connect initiative provides awareness, education and resources to communities throughout West Virginia,” Rob Hinton, the chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and the executive director of the Upshur County Development Authority, said. “Her leadership in Washington along with her support of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council will help to accelerate the expansion of reliable broadband throughout West Virginia.”

Shane Whitehair, the executive director of the Region VII Planning and Development Council, thanked Sen. Capito for her ongoing efforts to advance broadband connectivity, noting increased activity in broadband implementation since 2015.

“Her leadership has enhanced federal programs and has brought more resources for broadband projects,” Whitehair said. “For instance, in my region, she was instrumental in supporting a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide access in Barbour, Randolph and Upshur Counties in north-central West Virginia.”

Meredith Baker, the president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said Sen. Capito has been a fierce advocate for expansion of broadband in West Virginia, and her efforts have achieved results for West Virginians and all Americans.

“Like Sen. Capito, we believe that every American community should have access to the connectivity of wireless networks and the apps, services and platforms those connections enable,” Baker said. “We look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure the right spectrum, infrastructure and regulatory policies are in place to help expand mobile broadband to more West Virginians and Americans.”

Dr. C. Donovan “Dino” Beckett, the CEO of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center based in Williamson, W. Va., said Capito Connect is increasing opportunities and access to financial resources and investments in rural broadband.

“Without these efforts targeting investment and development in rural locations that need it the most, many West Virginia businesses, homes and classrooms would lack the potential to connect affordably to high-speed broadband,” Beckett said. “Sen. Capito’s leadership is building the momentum necessary to break-down connectivity barriers and level the playing field for West Virginia to participate in a global digital economy.”