OAK HILL — For a number of years, one of West Virginians’ chief complaints about the state has been its roads. But as the state and rest of the world move into the digital age, more and more residents are finding they are just as concerned if not more so, with their access to a digital highway as they are to a physical one.
Andrew Cohill, a broadband architect as well as the president and CEO of Design Nine, a broadband consulting firm from Roanoke, Virginia, made this observation Tuesday night in Oak Hill during a Broadband Project Public Meeting hosted by the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority (FCURA). A similar meeting earlier in the day was held in Montgomery.
As part of the meeting, attended mostly by local officials, Cohill discussed the results of a Broadband Feasibility Study for Fayette County completed in the summer of 2019.
FCURA defined broadband as internet service that is faster than traditional dial-up internet.
The study, which was funded by a West Virginia Community Development Block Grant obtained by the FCURA, found that a majority of Fayette County is lacking in affordable broadband internet services which is holding the county back from obtaining more businesses and workers.
Kim Maxwell, 43, of Fayette County, said as someone who works out of her home, she relies on a fast and effective internet connection to get her job done.
She added that if more people in the county and even the state had access to high speed internet, it would go a long way in helping grow local businesses and entice more people to move and stay in the area.
“I’ve lived in Fayette County for almost 20 years. It’s home and I think that it’s an amazing place and I like to hear about it and help make it more accessible for people to be here and broadband is a big piece of that,” she said.
In order to increase the availability of broadband in Fayette County, the study suggests the county focus on public-private partnerships.
Cohill said FCURA should be looking for ways to fund the instillation of fiber and towers needed to bring broadband to homes and businesses with the ability to lease those lines and towers to companies in charge of those internet services.
He added that this partnership would also likely result in cheaper rates for customers.
Jeffrey Proctor, a member of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and the FCURA, said finding funding to install fiber and towers will be the next step for Fayette County.
Cohill also said a key to improving broadband in the county is increased education.
He said that some people are still unaware of all the benefits broadband can bring from attracting more tourists to allowing students to work from home on a snow day.
For Fayette County and West Virginia residents looking to aid in broadband improvement in their community, Proctor said every household should take the council’s “speed test” available at broadband.wv.gov.
Proctor said the speed test will allow the county along with municipalities to map out a cohesive plan to improve broadband.
For more information about the feasibly study go to https://fayettecounty.wv.gov/urban_renewal_authority/Pages/default.aspx.