April 20, 2017
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is currently considering whether to sign a bill, H.B. 3093, that would allow communities to form cooperative associations to build broadband infrastructure. Legislators who voted for the bill have told their constituents that it won’t cost them a dime and that it will lead to better access in rural communities.
Unfortunately, those claims are misleading.
The truth is that H.B. 3093 is focused more on allowing municipal government to compete with private Internet Service Providers than it is on expanding access to the state’s unserved residents. In fact, the bill actually allows local governments to build their own networks even in areas where private providers already provide service. As the Coalition for the New Economy has argued repeatedly, taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be wasted in locations where residents already have access. (To that point: 95 percent of West Virginians can access wireline broadband while 99.4 percent can get wireless. Nearly three quarters have access to wired broadband that is 25 mbps or faster and a quarter already can get one gigabit speeds.)
Supporters of H.B. 3093 also have tried to argue that no taxpayer money would be sacrificed in the pursuit of broadband. That claim is almost laughable. While H.B. 3093 does not appear to commit any state revenues to the matter, as noted above, it would allow localities to take on debt or to raise taxes to finance broadband networks. It also encourages the use of federal tax dollars. Building broadband is costly. It won’t come for free.
And neither will H.B. 3093.
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