Facebook to expand broadband connectivity in West Virginia

During a press conference Monday in Charleston, W.Va., U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito details Facebook's plan to provide better internet speeds and connectivity to rural parts of West Virginia.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State and federal officials announced Monday in Charleston plans for Facebook to install a fiber optic cable that will run through an approximate 275-mile route in West Virginia, providing the state with better internet speeds and improved internet connection in rural areas.

Through their subsidiary Middle Mile Infrastructure, Facebook will begin the project this year. Work on the project is expected to last for roughly 18 to 24 months, begin in Ashburn, Virginia, and end in Columbus, Ohio, connecting two major internet exchanges.

As a result of the project, broadband providers will be able to expand middle-mile networks into communities along the route, and it will establish West Virginia as a preferred route for fiber backbone construction.

“Access to broadband internet drives economic growth and opportunity, but there are still too many unserved communities, including here in West Virginia," said Kevin Salvadori, director of Network Investments, Facebook. "We see the need for long haul fiber as an opportunity to provide critical infrastructure where it did not previously exist. To that end, we’ve designed our project to attract potential local and regional providers to expand broadband internet access for the communities surrounding our builds."

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said, "It's going to be probably without question the biggest initiative we've had in the state forever."

After expressing thanks to Facebook, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and the Department of Commerce, Justice added, "We have truly, truly done something here that's going to give our citizens what we need so badly — connectivity to the world, to be able to really market ourselves and our products."

Justice would not specify the exact cost of the project, but he said it would be "a multiple of repairing the dome several times." MetroNews reported in November 2017 the repair may cost at least $10 million.

"This is a great thing for us," Capito said. "I don't think it can be undersold."

She said connectivity is critical in West Virginia for business, tourism, agriculture, health care and education.

"This will help us grow and prosper here in the state," she said.

Capito said she has worked for more than a year to make this project a reality, including discussing the issue directly with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

“We are very excited to expand West Virginia’s internet infrastructure through this partnership with Facebook,” said state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch. “I supported Governor Justice’s Roads to Prosperity initiative because good roads are crucial to our state’s economic success — and in today’s economy, internet infrastructure is every bit as important.”

Wendy Holdren is managing editor of The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va. Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren.

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