Compiled by Leslie Fitzwater
Having a high-speed Internet connection in every K-12 school in the state of West Virginia is no longer just a long-term goal for the Manchin administration; it is a short-term reality thanks to more than $126 million in grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. West Virginia is one of seven states to receive millions of dollars through the federal stimulus initiative, but the only one to apply for a complete statewide grant. “This is a huge step forward in our longstanding plan to wire West Virginia from border to border,” said Gov. Joe Manchin. “I am confident that this statewide project will help West Virginia grow and prosper for many years to come.”
Department of Commerce Cabinet Secretary Kelley Goes applied for the funds on behalf of the governor. She said that West Virginia’s application outlined a plan to immediately deploy broadband infrastructure throughout the state to ensure that every area will be served. “Instead of approaching each school, library, prison or emergency service separately, the state proposed placing one order for an open access network, including 2,400 miles of fiber optic lines and cell towers.
"This is going to allow us to get to every single critical access facility that we identified. It also will allow us to speed up the build out of our public safety communications system as well as provide microwave access for expanded middle mile infrastructure and users,” Goes said.
Without the stimulus money, Goes says the state might never be able to reach some areas with broadband. "We are getting very deep into our communities with large amounts of broadband. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we could do it without these grants.”
Job seekers are another group of West Virginians benefitting from these funds. In March 2010, WorkForce West Virginia received $1.9 million in grant money to enhance and expand public-use computers, connection speeds and wireless capabilities at 20 WorkForce West Virginia One Stop field offices across the state. Although One Stop locations have existing computer equipment, most lack the resources to offer a modern computer center or the ability to provide a true broadband Internet experience.
“Broadband technology is a must-have career tool,” said Russell Fry, acting executive director for WorkForce West Virginia. “This funding will allow us to replace all of the existing computer workstations at the centers, add new workstations and serve almost 2,300 additional users per week, nearly doubling current traffic.”
WorkForce West Virginia will purchase new equipment for each center, upgrade to faster broadband connections and add video conferencing at each site. Upgrades will give clients the opportunity to improve existing skills, learn a new skill and find jobs.
“I consider the progress that is enabled through statewide broadband access as significant as upgrading from the telegraph to the telephone or going from a two-lane road to an Interstate highway system,” Manchin said. “Broadband technology infrastructure is that important to West Virginia. We should all be incredibly excited about the potential this project holds for our future.”