CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a four-year wait, the state Broadband Deployment Council will start taking applications next week for $3.3 million in state grant funding set aside for projects that expand high-speed Internet service in rural areas across West Virginia.
In 2008, state lawmakers set up the council and allocated $5 million for broadband expansion projects. The broadband council has since paid an out-of-state consultant $1.7 million, leaving $3.3 million for projects.
On Tuesday, a council member urged planning and economic development officials to spread the word about the grant money. Council members are hoping grant application requests exceed the funds available.
"If we don't have applications for all this money, that's not going to be a good message to send to the governor and Legislature," said Lee Fisher, who serves on the Broadband Deployment Council.
The council has said it would ask state lawmakers for about $5 million a year for broadband projects, if the first funding round proves successful.
Fisher met Tuesday with representatives of West Virginia's 11 regional and planning development councils, which plan to help small businesses and nonprofit groups apply for the state broadband funds. The councils will be paid $90 an hour for their work.
State officials expect to receive about two dozen applications.
Groups must use the grant money to expand broadband infrastructure, including wireless networks, in rural areas. The organizations also may use the funds to encourage consumers to sign up for broadband Internet service.
The state broadband council will accept applications July 25 through Aug. 24, and distribute the $3.3 million at a November meeting.
The council's consultant, L.R. Kimball, will review applications and recommend which projects get funded. Kimball, headquartered in Ebensburg, Pa., has selected about a dozen employees -- whose names won't be disclosed to the public -- to rate projects.
Kimball previously created an interactive computer map of broadband availability in West Virginia. The broadband council will spend about a third of the Legislature's $5 million grant on Kimball's consulting work.
"These are quality people," Fisher said. "For efficiency and fairness, it was important to step outside and have a team of professionals do this."