Mark Reilly, a vice president with Comcast, said tougher federal regulation won't get the job done any sooner. After 100 years of highly regulated telephone service, for example, not everyone in the U.S. has service.
"Regulate what?" he asked. "We're still very much in the early innings of this game."
Reilly said the industry is investing billions on its own, and he worries regulation could have a chilling effect.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was an early champion of extending broadband to rural America to encourage economic development, education and commerce, and to improve public safety, emergency services and health care.
At his last summit four years ago, less than 72 percent of West Virginians had access. Today, that's up to 91 percent. But Rockefeller said the job isn't done until everyone has access.
"I want to do everything possible so that all West Virginians are on the right side of the digital divide," he said. "Now is not the time to cut back on investments in critical infrastructure."
Debbie Goldman of the Communication Workers of America said that while the growth so far is laudable, her union has found that 40 percent of consumers aren't getting the speed of access they were promised. The CWA launched a Speed Matters initiative two years ago to help consumers put providers' claims to the test.
Those promises must become reality if businesses are going to locate in West Virginia, Goldman said. Living in a wired home increases the likelihood of landing a job, she said, and even long-established industries like agriculture now need to be online to monitor everything from market prices to weather reports.
But Comcast's Reilly said many of those farmers didn't want or need cable TV in the 1990s when that industry was growing, so they lack the lines to support broadband service today."So we built a largely residential network where people were demanding it," he said. Today, "it's hard to get to that farm, and it can be hard to get to that industrial park."