WVUncovered Blog

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Earlier this week, our West Virginia Uncovered class had the pleasure of hearing from Tom Glaisyer, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, a policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C. Although New America reviews policy in a number of different fields, Glaisyer specifically looks at media policy and how policy is implemented and used at the federal, state and local levels of government (Here’s a link to New America’s Media Policy division blog, Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age).

In Morgantown, Glaisyer discussed with our class the issue of broadband and media access in West Virginia. I always knew that the Mountain State wasn’t good in technology connectivity (i.e. broadband access, mobile data access), but I didn’t realize how bad it really is. West Virginia ranks in the bottom five U.S. states and territories for technology/broadband access. In class, we used maps created and updated by the West Virginia Broadband Mapping Program#. Below is a screenshot of “mobile wireless” coverage in West Virginia (For the WVBMP, “mobile wireless” refers to Internet capability on a cell phone or laptop card. Familiarly, this is usually known as “3G” technology.”):

wireless wv

Of course, the WVBMP provides many other maps and data as well, but this map was one of the more striking to me. Anyway, here’s how the lack of data and Glaisyer’s visit tie together:

At the New America Foundation, one of the main goals of its media policy research is to basically ensure that Americans have access to appropriate technology, and thus, have access to media. That media access therefore enables a democracy to properly function, as citizens have a way to voice opinion and communicate with and about the government. So, New America favors policy that promotes technological connectivity, especially in under served communities (like much of West Virginia).

At the present time, there has been significant federal money allocated to the state government and local governments, like Hardy County, to improve broadband access. However, at the state level, millions of dollars may be unspent if West Virginia doesn’t spend its federal allocation by early 2013, due to tie-ups in Charleston.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Broadband access in West Virginia is increasing, albeit slowly. In Hardy County (mentioned above), the Hardy AnchorRing project has significantly improved broadband access in that county within the past year, which can be seen on the WVBMP maps. And demand for fast Internet is likely increasing, as consumers around the state (and country) want to have the same technological capabilities as neighboring areas.

Unfortunately, West Virginia faces several challenges which are unavoidable. The rugged terrain of the state makes wireless access difficult, as more towers and infrastructure are needed to cover the area than in flatter areas in the Midwest. Also, West Virginia has a heavily rural population of under 2 million people, decreasing the cost efficiency for private companies for constructing broadband infrastructure to connect areas with just a handful of potential customers.

To top all this off, from a multimedia perpective, while other news organizations in parts of the country are becoming increasingly mobile and Internet-friendly, news outlets in West Virginia could still have audiences that are without mobile and Internet capability.

That’s why it’s important that we encourage our politicians to continue funding broadband access projects throughout the state. We don’t want West Virginia to be left behind (Here’s a link to a similar post wrote last semester, which ties in with this post and discusses the idea of West Virginia being left off the grid).

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