West Virginians urged to call Gov. Justice and tell him to sign broadband bill

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(Photo by Carling McManus) Generation West Virginia’s Natalie Roper and AARP West Virginia’s Tom Harper urge citizens to call Gov. Jim Justice and tell him to pass the broadband internet bill.

While West Virginia ranks 48th in the United States for overall broadband internet service, House Bill 3039, which seeks to establish broadband enhancement and expansion policies, sits on Governor Jim Justice’s desk.

HB 3093 passed overwhelmingly in both the WV House of Delegates and the Senate – only two members of the House and one member of the Senate voted against it. Now, Justice just has to sign it; so far, he hasn’t.

On Monday, AARP and Generation West Virginia joined to host a community meeting at Lewisburg City Hall. There, representatives of the two groups, one that lobbies in the interests of older citizens and the other that represents younger “millennials,” told the audience that expanded broadband internet access is necessary for people of all ages in the Mountain State.

Acknowledging that AARP and Generation West Virginia are “unlikely partners,” AARP West Virginia Associate State Director of Communications Tom Harper said that the broadband issue affects a diverse group.

From retirees who want to come “home” to West Virginia, to young professionals who must move away to pursue their careers, “communities lack essential broadband infrastructure.”

Harper said that lack of broadband access affects health and medicine for older West Virginians, also noting that internet access helps prevent older individuals from being as isolated from their friends and family.

Natalie Roper, Generation West Virginia executive director, said that broadband access is necessary to attract, retain and advance young talent.

“Broadband is critical infrastructure,” she said.

Millennials are entrepreneurs, Roper said, and internet service is critical to business success. Without reliable internet, businesses cannot relocate to West Virginia, and online educational opportunities and health care access for young families also suffers.

HB 3093 would increase the power of the Broadband Enhancement Council, allowing them to disburse grant funding and create a mapping system to identify unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Roper said that the bill, if passed, will allow communities to pool their resources to create co-ops, much like West Virginians did when electricity first came to the state. Co-ops would provide individualized solutions to a variety of circumstances and terrains, she said.

About 40 people attended the town hall, including representatives from Fayette County’s Adventures on the Gorge and from the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve, located in Fayette and Raleigh counties. They, along with other local business owners, lamented the struggle to run their businesses without reliable internet service.

Citizens are urged to call Justice at 304-558-2000 and urge him to sign the bill.

“Every single call matters,” Roper said.