By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
West Virginia Office of Broadband has released the first draft of the State’s Digital Equity Plan as a part of the State’s five year plan to roll out broadband internet coverage to the entirety of West Virginia residents.
“West Virginia is ready to conquer the digital divide. For far too long, many West Virginia communities have lacked affordible, high-speed broadband internet access, a necessity for access to healthcare, education, civic and social engagement, and economic opportunity. West Virginia residents have voiced the urgent need to address the issue. West Virginia’s leaders understand that broadband is essential to West Virginia’s economic future,” the plan’s Executive Summary writes.
The plan includes three goals. Goal one is to realize affordable connectivity, goal two is to secure device access and affordability and goal three is to elevate digital skills and accessibility of public services. Each goal contains two objectives.
The Plan also outlines the programs available to address digital equity with a focus on such demographics as: aging individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with language barriers and all West Virginia residents.
The draft also broke down the results and feedback from listening sessions held throughout the state. Among the feedback listed, the plan says, “Poor internet quality and reliability are major barriers to internet access in West Virginia. 100% of Listening Session Participants (LSPs) in RPDC #1 reported poor internet quality as a top barrier, while 80% reported poor reliability as a significant issue. High cost for broadband internet and lack of competition among Internet Service Providers prevent many West Virginians from adopting internet services. In listening sessions hosted by the RPDC #7, 85% of participants reported that the high cost of services presented a major barrier for access and adoption.” Tucker County is included in RPDC #7.
Other issues included in the plan directly quoted to Region VII include, “LSPs who participated in a session hosted by the RPDC #7 stated that they have gone up to three weeks without any way to communicate with the outside world or the ability to call 9-1-1,” the report writes. “Almost 31% of those who attended RPDC #7 listening sessions stated that their inability to procure internet access reduced their ability to access information and entertainment.”
In a general observation listed under Civic and Social Engagement, the plan writes, “Slow internet speeds and data caps restrict usage of online resources for entertainment or informational purposes. LSPs reported that it can take up to 30 minutes for a website to load, one hour to download a file, and as much as a day to send a photo.”
The plan also describes the State’s plan for implementation. Included in the plans Implementation Strategy and Key Activities are continued involvement and collaboration with existing partners and the analysis of relevant case studies of pilot programs from other states and municipalities. The section also includes a timeline of the implementation of objectives from 2024 to 2028.
“The State of West Virginia believes that bridging the digital divide is a collaborative effort between partners in the public and private sectors. As such, WVDED has sought to engage with stakeholders throughout every step of the process, benefiting from their knowledge, input, and resources. This includes stakeholders at the federal, state, and local level,” the plan writes. These stakeholders are outlined in the plan and include, according to the plan, Federal partnerships, West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, West Virginia Public Institutions, Private Sector and Nonprofits.
As a part of the process, the state is seeking public feedback on the draft. A copy of the State’s Digital Equity Plan and feedback form can be found at https://broadband.wv.gov/west-virginias-digitial-equity-plan-public-comment/ and https://internetforallwv.wv.gov/plans/
Hard copy comment forms are also available. All hard copy comment forms are due no later than Monday, August 21st and can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Region VII Planning and Development Council, PO box 849, 21 East Main Street, Suite 102, Buckhannon, WV 26201.