September 18, 2017

Manchin touts new broadband measure | Huntington Herald Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - Southern West Virginia should begin seeing better broadband connectivity as early as next year, said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

In August, the Federal Communications Commission voted to move forward with Mobility Fund II, which will provide $4.53 billion of federal support over the next 10 years to expand mobile broadband coverage to rural America. This included a new data collection that incorporates requirements of Manchin's Rural Wireless Access Act, which the senator introduced in May. It will ensure the data used to determine areas of eligibility for support will be valid, consistent and robust.

Friday, in an edit board meeting with The Herald-Dispatch, Manchin likened this support to President Theodore Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Act in the 1930s, which provided electricity to rural parts of the country that never had it before.

"The government has to intervene when there is absolutely no market, unless you are going to leave parts in abject poverty," Manchin said. "we don't have enough of a market to get the return the investors would want a return on. They won't go down there and build the towers and get the high speed. They just aren't going to do it. This is where the federal government has to come in and purge it. Well, I got the Tea Party, far right, who says no government intervention in the private market. Well, it works where there is a lot of people maybe, but it doesn't work when there aren't a lot of people.

"So, we've got to build out the whole country."

Manchin said part of the problem in the past was that the FCC's mapping was incorrect, showing places with no connectivity as having it.

"The chairman of the FCC at the time, I brought him into West Virginia, and I took him to Tucker County," he said. "I said, 'Look at your phone. Your map says you've got coverage right?' I said, 'Make a phone call. Just get your phone and use it. See if you can get anybody.' Well, he couldn't get out."

The increased connectivity paired with better infrastructure should help bring more business into the state. Manchin said he supports Gov. Jim Justice's road plan, though he hopes the powers that be have accounted for future maintenance.

"I can build you a road, but if you can't afford to maintain it, I've wasted my money," he said.

Manchin said he has full confidence in Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.

Manchin also said he believes coal production will stabilize over the next three decades, though he said that the state will never get back to where it once was.

With fewer coal jobs, the need for new business and industry will become increasingly more important, but the Mountain State has to be able to fill the workforce.

Currently, West Virginia has a workforce participation rate of 62.9 percent, the lowest in the history of the state.

Manchin said his office has hosted several job fairs statewide, and they are unable to fill all the positions. He said this is mainly for three reasons: addiction, felony conviction or lack of skills. Sometimes it's a combination.

"Our education has to be geared toward the jobs of the 21st Century, but also to the skillsets of the jobs that could and should be in West Virginia," Manchin said.

During Friday's meeting, Manchin also discussed health care. Republicans are facing a deadline to make good on their promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." At the end of the month, the timeline to use reconciliation runs out, meaning they will need a full majority to pass any bills. Manchin said he does not think anything has changed and Republicans still do not have the votes they need to pass anything.

Manchin said he would be willing to explore single-payer system, but no one has produced anything with any structure to actually vote on or debate. The senator said he believes reinsurance is the way to go, like the system that works in Alaska. Reinsurance is a government-funded pool of funds to help insurance companies cover high-risk clients.

By:  Taylor Stuck