On Wednesday, heads of state and a wireless communications advocate sat down to discuss the future of broadband and mobile technologies in the mountain state at the West Virginia Chamber's annual meeting at The Greenbrier.
Much of the discussion was about what West Virginia is missing and how to make the most of it by catching up with the rest of the nation.
Beth Cooley, head of state legislation at CTIA, an advocate of wireless companies, was there to discuss the needs of the West Virginia mobile industry.
Most of these needs are focused on providing 5G mobile services, which Cooley said will take place during the year.
According to Cooley, the leap to 5G from 4G service will increase speed and responsiveness, and enable smart communities and networks to be created.
"We're talking about remote infrastructure monitoring," Cooley said. "Roads, bridges, buildings, parks, venues, citizen friendliness, real-time tracking of information including information about traffic lights and smart parking."
Another feature of the 5G-powered smart communities that Cooley propagated was their use in public safety, which she said would save lives and reduce crime.
Although the future of mobile technology is upon us, Cooley also said that West Virginia is at a disadvantage in implementing new technology.
Much of this disadvantage is due to increased data load in the mobile infrastructure, resulting in a "bend-down".
According to Cooley, mobile data usage has increased 40-fold since 2010, with traditional cell towers being less effective as increased data congestion reduces towers' reach.
Cooley said that technology exists to reduce this congestion and improve wireless networks.
Kimley said laws have been passed in 20 states to facilitate the use of small cell devices. West Virginia is not one of those states.
According to Cooley, the laws in Mountain State miniature pizza boxes treat the same as 200 foot mountaintop cell towers for approval purposes.
Cooley argued that the modernization of state mobile implementation laws would greatly facilitate efforts to provide 5G in West Virginia.
Robert Hinton was excited about the possibility of 5G, saying that the state lacks a key factor that could lead to the development of a faster mobile service: the fiber optic cable.
"One of the things we need to know is that although 5G is a wireless component, it will always rely on a fiber backbone infrastructure," said Hinton, chairman of the Broadband Enhancement Council of West Virginia.
Hinton praised the state legislature for opening up the freeways on the way to fiber installation, calling it a move in the right direction.
According to Hinton, work has begun to map and organize broadband projects with the West Virginia Division of Highways.
Along with the organization of projects, Hinton said that the broadband council has collected data through the publicly available online speed test.
According to Hinton, 40,000 individual West Virginians have completed the speed tests with 350,000 speed tests conducted throughout the state since the beginning of the year.
"When it comes to this, there is just a lot of information," Hinton said. "There is a lot to do and there is much to do."
The chairman also warned against seeking a simple answer to the broadband problem of the state.
"There is not one person or company that comes into a community and solves this problem," Hinton said. "It will require a broad impact."
According to Hinton, much of this effort could be done through public-private partnerships with local governments and business development agencies that use public finance to reduce the costs of private companies offering broadband services in areas that are insufficient to return otherwise.
"We need to create an environment that will bring many obstacles to these businesses to make these businesses profitable," said Hinton.
State Senator Gregory Boso, R-11. District, talked about his district's need for broadband despite its rural nature.
The 11th Senate District of West Virginia consists of one fifth of West Virginia's landmass covering part of Grant County and Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph and Upshur districts, making it the largest Senate district east of the Mississippi and roughly the size of Connecticut ,
Boso said that it takes him four and a half hours to travel from one end of the district to the other, but the district is extremely rural, accounting for six percent of the state's population.
"When you talk about broadband and talk about wireless connectivity in those areas, it's very difficult for them to make investments and encourage their investors to pump money into those rural areas," Boso said.
Boso said small businesses have demanded that broadband reach an international market. In one particular case, the district lost one inhabitant because there is no good connection.
The resident, a farmer, has moved to Virginia to use the good Internet speed to market his cattle nationally.
Boso said the state needed to attract new residents, especially veterans, and said it was possible that companies could do business, which was done in every area of the state to achieve that goal.
One particular market Boso is interested in is furniture manufacturing.
With the lush hardwoods of his district, Boso said broadband could attract furniture makers to build in the state, rather than West Virginians, who cut West Virginia wood to simply ship it overseas and buy furniture from foreign manufacturers.
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