CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's push to expand high-speed Internet might be more complicated than making broadband service available by stringing copper wire or fiber on poles to people's homes.
A new federal study shows slightly more than 35 percent of West Virginia households don't own a computer -- the second-lowest ranking of any state in the survey.
The low computer ownership numbers help explain why many West Virginians don't sign up for high-speed Internet service, even where it's available.
The study -- called "Exploring the Digital Nation" -- shows that 59 percent of West Virginia households subscribe to high-speed Internet. That's the eighth-lowest Internet adoption rate among the 50 states, although West Virginia's ranking has improved from past years.
"The report is clearly, in my opinion, a report on age groups and their habits as much as it is on the subject of adoption rates," said Lee Fisher, who serves on the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council. "So in those states where an aging population, like in West Virginia, is an issue, I don't believe you will ever have the adoption rates that people seem to shoot for until the demographic changes."
Nationally, 70 percent of homes are hooked up to the Internet.
"Even with our improved 'take rate' up in the 60-percent range, we are still way behind most of the country," said Dan O'Hanlon, chairman of the Broadband Deployment Council
The study by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration cited several reasons why people don't sign up for Internet service: lack of interest; it's too expensive; and they don't have a computer.
Mississippi had 35.5 percent of homes without computers, the lowest ownership rate in the nation, followed by West Virginia's at 35.4 percent. By contrast, 85 percent of homes have computers in Washington state, the highest percentage in the nation, according to the study.
To increase computer ownership, O'Hanlon suggested the state work with nonprofit groups, such as Mission West Virginia, that provide refurbished computers to homes that don't have them.
"The report actually shows us there are things the Broadband Council can do to raise our rate of broadband use in West Virginia," he said.
Frontier Communications, West Virginia's largest broadband provider, has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to make high-speed Internet available across the state.