June 03, 2019

FCC Receives Criticism, Praise From West Virginia Officials | The Parkersburg News And Sentinel

CHARLESTON — The Federal Communications Commission received a lashing from one state elected official, while others praised the agency.

Leaders in the House of Delegates released a statement Thursday in support of a set of conditions the FCC secured for the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile. The two major cellular communications providers want to merge their companies in a deal worth $26.5 billion.

Both companies agreed to freeze prices for three years while building out a 5G network which would provide faster broadband speeds and possibly growth into some of the state’s poorly served areas and provide last-mile internet service. The deal requires 85 percent of rural areas to be covered by 5G broadband, increasing to 90 percent over six years.

“This deal, should it be approved, could significantly improve access to high-speed wireless technologies in West Virginia,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. “I applaud (FCC Chairman Ajit Pai) for securing significant commitments from these companies to boost wireless coverage in rural areas like West Virginia.”

Other concessions secured by the FCC include: providing 97 percent of the U.S. population to high-speed broadband over three years and 99 percent in the next six years; and providing 90 percent of the population with speeds up to 100 megabytes per second and 99 percent with speeds up to 50 megabytes per second.

“This deal could dramatically expand competition and access to wireless networks and home-based broadband through a significant investment in new 5G technologies across our state,” said Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, House Technology and Infrastructure Committee vice chairman.

“Having a strong third carrier in the wireless industry will increase competition and unleash the power of the free-market to benefit consumers across the Mountain State,” Linville said. “If approved, this deal could ignite a wave of broadband and cellular technology expansion across West Virginia over the next six years.”

The concessions negotiated by the FCC are not the final word. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of Justice wants Sprint and T-Mobile to create a separate wireless carrier before approving any merger. Discussions are ongoing.

While House lawmakers are pleased with the work FCC is doing to expand broadband access, not all of West Virginia’s lawmakers are pleased with the progress. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., blasted the FCC this week for what he said is a misleading report on broadband growth.

According to the FCC’S 2019 Broadband Deployment Report released Wednesday, more people are gaining access to high-speed broadband internet. The number of Americans without access to terrestrial fixed broadband shrunk from 26.1 million American without access to at least 25 megabytes per second in 2016 to 21.3 million Americans in 2017 — an 18 percent decrease. Of that number, 4.3 million Americans live in rural areas.

The number of Americans with access to broadband speeds up to 250 megabytes per second grew by 36 percent to 191.5 million Americans. Access to high-speed broadband in rural areas grew by 85.1 percent in 2017. The report claims that 95.1 percent of West Virginia residents have mobile LTE internet access, including 90.6 percent of rural West Virginians.

Manchin questions the report’s accuracy and is asking the FCC to seek more feedback from West Virginians on where broadband and wireless service is lacking.

“As a West Virginian who has been to every county, almost every town and driven on almost every road, I know that the findings in this report do not accurately reflect what West Virginians are actually experiencing when it comes to internet coverage,” Manchin said. “I am proud to be the only elected official to have officially challenged a federal broadband coverage map. It’s impossible to fill gaps, if you don’t know they are there. That’s why accurate coverage maps are the first and most important step when determining who needs coverage.”

Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced the Broadband Mapping Act on May 15. The bill would require the FCC to use consumer reporting and state and local data when developing broadband coverage maps. Manchin has previously broached this topic with the FCC in February.

“I stand ready to work with the FCC to ensure we address the issue of inaccurate coverage data, move forward on critical programs like the Mobility Fund Phase II and are truly on the right path toward narrowing the digital divide in West Virginia,” Manchin said.


By:  Steve Allen Adams