In West Virginia, citizens have grown tired of private Internet service providers skirting the line of acceptable Internet speeds, reliability and consistency. In some parts of the state, there is simply no Internet solution at all outside of satellite services. In response to the restlessness, people have rallied to push for a publicly funded fiber-based Internet service. They also have legislators pushing for the infrastructure to be built to allow this to happen. Needless to say, the big private companies are completely unhappy with this idea and are looking to shut it down.
Recently, State Senator Chris Walters (R) brought to the table a bill that would have contractors lay down over 2,000 miles of fiber cable through the state. This isn't to start up a new ISP, however. Instead, this fiber network would be accessible by any ISP that wants to tap into the lines and bring service to homes in the state. As you could imagine, this could sprout dozens of small companies to bring potentially high-quality service to the areas in need, and of course the big ISPs are against the bill.
West Virginia Cable TV Association Chief Mark Polen said,
This bill would obligate the state to borrow between $75 million and $100 million, and it wouldn't guarantee that a single rural customer who doesn't have broadband service would get it. The state-financed, state-owned, and state-operated fiber network will be in direct competition with the private investments our members have made in West Virginia.
It should be noted that Polen is in charge of a group that includes Comcast, Time Warner and other popular middle-tier ISPs in the state. Frontier, who is not in the association but is found in many areas of West Virginia, have also opposed the new network. It is reported that lesser-known ISPs like Citynet and Alpha Technologies, however, are fully in favor of bringing better broadband to troubled regions and giving rural residents a reliable and affordable Internet service.
Senator Walters, in a statement, openly argued against the Cable TV Association of West Virginia.
Once we build this network, people are going to use it. If all of a sudden you have a network that affordably gets you where you want to go, you're going to use it if it makes financial sense.
Startup ISPs could surely benefit from a provided fiber system, and could more than likely pass down savings to the consumer. Bigger ISPs have backed an alternative bill that would simply hand out $1 million in tax credits to ISPs wanting to build in rural areas. The problem with that is it's only for $1 million in total, not for every ISP who wants in on the action. The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reviews both bills next week and has already shown interest in the bill introduced by Walters, who is also the chair of the Committee.