Frontier, Suddenlink convince West Virginia to scale back middle mile plans

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Frontier and Suddenlink have been able to flex their lobbying muscle in West Virginia and convince the state's lawmakers to revamp their 2,500-mile middle mile network plans.

While not completely abandoning the network plan -- one that Frontier and Suddenlink say will overlap with their networks -- state senators now plan to build the middle mile network in phases.

Initially, West Virginia Senator Sen. Chris Walters (R-Putnam) proposed a plan to create a $72 million network.

Under the new version of the SB 315 bill, service providers would request a grant and bond money to build particular network segments. However, participants will have to prove they could attract a large amount of customers and a plan to retire debt.

A completely reworked version of the bill allows Internet companies to request grant and bond money to build individual fiber segments, provided the firms can show they could sign up a sufficient number of customers and have viable plans to retire their debt.

"It's a more intelligent way to do it, instead of putting us on the hook for 2,500 miles without commitments from providers to pay for it," said Sen. Walters in a Charleston Gazette-Mail article. "It will really help companies get bonds and grants easier to expand fiber in West Virginia."

Proponents of the middle mile network proposal like CityNet say that the plan can help bring broadband to more rural parts of the state. According to FCC data, which ranks West Virginia 48th in people having access to broadband service, over 544,000 of the state's residents can't get access to broadband services.

Jim Martin, CEO of Citynet, a Bridgeport-based Internet company, said that this bill "recognizes we don't have the infrastructure in the rural areas, and we need to build out to those rural markets to make the Internet affordable."

However, Mark Polen, executive director of the West Virginia Cable Association, said that 70 percent of the state's population can get a broadband subscription.

"That's a pretty good record to start with after just 15 years of investment," said Polen.

After the Senate Government Organization Committee passed the revised legislation Friday, the future of the bill now depends on the full state Senate which will review the new proposal this week.

For more:
- Charleston Gazette-Mail has this article

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