W.Va. Receives Funding For Internet Access For Public School Students | News, Sports, Jobs

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Photo courtesy of Legislative Photography / WV FUNDING – Economic Development Department secretary Mitch Carmichael briefed lawmakers on Tuesday about plans to expand broadband in the state.

CHARLESTON – When it comes to the expansion of broadband in West Virginia, the millions sent to state and local governments through the US bailout or the FCC’s Rural Broadband Fund are making headlines, but a new program will provide students and their families with better and affordable Internet access. .

Members of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance and the Joint Committee on Technology received updates on the progress of broadband expansion efforts on Tuesday from Mitch Carmichael, secretary of the Ministry of Economic Development.

Speaking to members of the Joint Technology Committee on Tuesday afternoon, Carmichael said the state had pending federal grant applications for broadband programs, excluding the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund. the Federal Communication Commission and the US bailout, for a total of more than $ 100 million.

One of these programs is the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). The $ 7.17 billion program will allow public schools and libraries to offer Wi-Fi hotspots that students can take home for broadband access. The program also covers the reasonable costs of laptops and tablets, as well as modems and routers.

“ECF will help relieve millions of students, school staff and library users and help bridge the homework gap for students who currently do not have the necessary Internet access or the devices they need.” to connect to classrooms » declares the FCC on its website.

Carmichael said that due to the efforts of Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, and State Senator Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, the State Department of Education has requested $ 47 million in FEC funds.

“I want to thank Del. Linville, Senator Plymale and others who really worked to get the FCC Emergency Connect Fund,” Carmichael said. “They urged the Department of Education to seek these funds, and they did. … It’s a great program.

Carmichael said the competition for FEC funds was not strong.

“We don’t have the prices yet. These are pending ”, Carmichael said. “I was told earlier that of the $ 7 billion allocated for this program nationally, there were only $ 5 billion in applications. We will probably receive these funds.

Last year, the state used federal funds from the CARES Act to launch WV Kids Connect, installing Wi-Fi hotspots in schools, colleges, libraries and state parks to donate for students a location to access the internet as many schools were in distance learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Another program, called the Emergency Broadband Benefits program, provides $ 50 per month to subsidize broadband service for families with incomes at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. The program also offers up to $ 100 for a desktop, laptop or tablet if recipients can contribute between $ 10 and $ 50 towards the purchase price.

“It helps affordability” Carmichael said. “Currently 37,999 residents of West Virginia are using this service. Virtually all Internet service providers have signed up for and recognize the program. This is a very big advantage.

The Department of Economic Development leads the state’s broadband expansion efforts and works on coordination between internet service providers and state, county, and municipal governments.

More than $ 362.1 million has been awarded to nine Internet service providers in West Virginia for Phase I of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. Phase I focuses on extending Internet service to unserved parts of the state. West Virginia is set to receive $ 138 million for broadband expansion as part of President Joe Biden’s US bailout.

The state can also use part of the $ 1.355 billion it receives from the US bailout for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion. Counties and cities are receiving a combined $ 679 million through the Biden plan which can also be used for broadband projects. Another $ 100 billion investment in broadband comes from various grants and loans provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the US Department of Agriculture.

(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])

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