West Virginia’s Broadband – Or Lack of It

Jul 27 2020 |
Go just a little outside of Wheeling, West Virginia, and it becomes very hard to get good internet access. | Getty Images

Reliable internet access is a real problem in rural America.

Editor’s note: We talk a lot about infrastructure at the Alliance for American Manufacturing. America’s roads, bridges, water systems, electric grid, public transit, airports, railways, pipelines, dams, and more are all in terrible shape. Investing to fix them will create millions of jobs and boost the economy at a critical time.

But oftentimes, the conversation about infrastructure is rather wonky, failing to fully express just how personal infrastructure is. After all, infrastructure is all around us. It is the pipelines that deliver safe drinking water into our homes and the electricity that powers them; it is the sidewalks in our neighborhoods and the schools where our children learn.

In an occasional series, AAM staffers explore infrastructure needs in their own community – including the piece below from the daughter of Lou Delatore, AAM's field coordinator for Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. 

There are many different forms of infrastructure including roads, buildings, and much more. However, broadband internet access is a form of infrastructure that is lacking in many parts of our country.

Slow internet speeds (or complete lack of internet access) and high internet bills are things West Virginians have had to deal with for a long time. Hills and large farms make this state less likely to have fast internet speeds, despite the desperate need it has for them.

With some schools moving to online learning, there has never been a better time to upgrade. Take my home county of Brooke: Unless you live in the downtown areas of Wellsburg and Follansbee, your chances of encountering cellphone service is slim to none, which can cause a variety of problems.

As of December 2019, there was a plan to begin bringing broadband internet to West Virginia’s Brooke and Hancock counties, even receiving a $125,000 grant towards it. However, the June 2020 completion date for the first part of this process – a survey to find the most unserved and underserved areas around here – has passed, and no further mention of it has been made since February 2020.

Our family has had our own set of not-so-unique challenges living deep within the hills of Wellsburg when it comes to internet infrastructure. Until recently, we had some rather unsatisfactory service and wifi that made it nearly impossible to submit schoolwork and get in contact with friends and family. Our wifi would go out so often that most of the time we relied on cellular service that was less than satisfactory.

Internet infrastructure is so incredibly important because – in this day and age where everything is online – it could become the difference between someone having a job that allows them to work remotely or being unemployed. And with the reliance on cellphones and the gradual disappearance of landline phones, reliable internet could also be the difference between someone getting help in an emergency.

Having a poor connection can keep West Virginians out of work or out of touch. Small businesses also rely on internet to get their business known, or even started, making it that much more important to have strong broadband access. With an improved connection, small businesses and citizens alike can stay more connected and help their community thrive.

If the government were to spend just a little bit more on giving us better internet infrastructure, it would make this state just that much more competitive.

Kameron Delatore is a high school senior from Wellsburg, West Virginia.