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Much of W.Va. lacks high-speed Internet access

A Federal Communications Commission report shows West Virginia has the highest percentage of residents in the nation without high-speed Internet, but state and company officials say the report is based on old data.

About 845,000 West Virginians, or 46 percent of the state's residents, don't have access to broadband Internet service, according to the FCC report released this week.

The report was based on data from June 2011. More recently updated figures by the state show a higher percentage of residents have high-speed access, The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/SnVgAp ) reported.

"Although this study doesn't reflect the data we have, it does highlight that there's still work to be done in West Virginia," Dan O'Hanlon, chairman of the state Broadband Deployment Council, said Wednesday. "The governor and Legislature has told us not to stop until 100 percent of the citizens and businesses in West Virginia have access to broadband."

Frontier Communications senior vice president Dana Waldo said 82 percent of households have broadband access in the company's West Virginia territory.

Other states with limited broadband access were Montana (27 percent), South Dakota (21 percent) and Alaska (20 percent). About 6 percent of residents nationally lacked access to high-speed Internet.

The report also showed even West Virginians with broadband have Internet speeds slower than most states. The report categorized "broadband" as having a download speed of 4 megabits per second or faster.

When broken down by area, the report said 60 percent of West Virginia's rural communities can't get high-speed Internet, compared with 31 percent of residents in non-rural areas.

The FCC report examined only "fixed" broadband access. It didn't include high-speed Internet delivered by satellite and wireless signals.

Paul Miller, an analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said the state must do more to get people to sign up in places where broadband is available.

"Most of the attention has been paid so far on infrastructure, but it seems the state is really missing an opportunity by not doing more to promote broadband," said Miller. "It has to be profitable for a business to build out broadband. Unless there are people to subscribe, there's no incentive to build out in the smaller and harder-to-find areas."

West Virginia is spending $126.3 million in federal stimulus funds to bring fiber-optic cable to libraries, schools, health-care centers and other public facilities. The state Broadband Deployment Council in December plans to distribute $4 million for projects that bring broadband to rural areas.


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