CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill designed to bring faster Internet service to rural communities in West Virginia cleared the House of Delegates Tuesday.
House members voted 88-11 to approve legislation (HB2979) that would raise the state's minimum acceptable broadband download speed to 6 megabits per second. The change allows telecommunication firms to apply for state funds to provide faster service across West Virginia.
West Virginia's minimum broadband speed would exceed federal standards. The Federal Communication Commission has suggested that every U.S. household have a 4-megabit Internet download speed by 2020.
"We want to be on the leading edge," said House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo. "That's the direction I think we need to go."
State law now sets 200 kilobits per second as the minimum broadband speed, one of the slowest limits in the nation.
West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council members proposed the bill to redefine download speeds to expand the pool of applicants seeking funds for projects that increase high-speed Internet service in rural areas.
Higher speeds allow people to download web pages, music, videos and online games more quickly.
In December, the council distributed $2.05 million in funds for broadband projects, but held back another $2 million.
"If the state is going to invest in broadband infrastructure in the future, it must demand that there is an appropriate level of service that meets the true need of the public," said Jim Martin, a council member and CEO of Bridgeport-based Internet provider Citynet.
Frontier Communications and other Broadband Council members have argued that the faster speed requirement would drive broadband providers away from remote areas that have no high-speed Internet service at all.
Instead, the critics predict, telecommunications firms will turn their attention to bringing faster service to areas that already have broadband.
Frontier has reported that 85,000 households don't have broadband service in West Virginia.
Frontier also has said the legislation would allow the state to subsidize other telecommunications providers to bring faster service to areas where Frontier already makes high-speed Internet available.