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W.Va. a broadband 'overachiever'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia ranks 35th in the nation for high-speed Internet service, but the state is moving faster to increase broadband availability than anywhere else, according to a new study.

West Virginia is one of 13 states cited as "overachiever" when it comes to expanding high-speed broadband Internet to promote economic development, according to a report released by a national group of business executives.

West Virginia received high marks for increasing the percentage of households with broadband service from 33 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2010, the last year for which data was available.

"I'm proud of the fact that West Virginia has done such a good job increasing the number of people using broadband in West Virginia," said Dan O'Hanlon, chairman of the state Broadband Deployment Council. "That's what the council was set up to do."

The report from TechNet, a network of CEOs who promote economic innovation, spotlighted overachieving states with broadband expansion roadblocks -- rugged terrain, rural areas and economies less reliant on technology.

Despite those obstacles, West Virginia had the largest increase in broadband use among all states between 2007 and 2010 -- a 26 percent jump.

"West Virginia is geographically challenged," O'Hanlon said. "West Virginia has been labeled an overachiever, and that's what we are."

Overall, West Virginia ranked 35th in the nation in the TechNet's "broadband index," which measured Internet speeds, broadband availability and how oriented a state's economy was to broadband.

"In terms of effort, West Virginia probably does fall in the middle, but 10 years ago, I think we would have been last," said Lee Fisher, a Broadband Deployment Council member.

West Virginia was ranked among the bottom four states for the percentage of homes that have access to fiber-optic cable. Most West Virginia homes receive Internet access over slower, copper-wire networks.

"It's really hard to pull fiber to a lot of homes," O'Hanlon said. "That's why we're trying to focus on last-mile wireless Internet networks as a solution in a lot of rural places."

Nationally, the TechNet study found that states that invested in broadband had stronger economic growth than those that have not.

"There's no question that a lot of the states that ranked high are investing in broadband going forward," Fisher said. "It's states with taxing authority or bond issuing authority for the specific purpose of supplying broadband to residents of those states."

The TechNet study was underwritten by Cisco Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based company that designs and sells networking equipment.

"Simply put, broadband is the foundation for our nation's continued technology and economic leadership," said TechNet President Rey Ramsey in a news release. "We applaud all the states at the top of this index for their leadership in building the broadband infrastructure that is helping deliver economic success and improved quality of life for millions of our fellow citizens."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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