The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has approved Appalachian Power's plan for a broadband infrastructure project in Logan and Mingo counties. The PSC also approved cost recovery for the estimated $61.3 million investment, which includes installing 430 miles of middle-mile fiber optic cable infrastructure needed to facilitate broadband access in unserved areas of Logan and Mingo counties.
“The global pandemic brought a heightened sense of urgency to solving the digital divide, in which rural residents without broadband availability are unable to work, learn or access health services from home,” said Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and chief operating officer. “We are well-positioned to help expand broadband access in rural parts of our service area, and are excited to be part of the solution to this longstanding issue.”
Beam explained that major service providers install the backbone network that ultimately provides access to the World Wide Web. “Last-mile” providers install the service to homes and businesses and serve customers directly. In rural areas, providing the “middle-mile” fiber network like the one that will be built in Logan and Mingo counties is often the most difficult part of creating a broadband fiber network. Beam noted that the expansion of fiber has the added benefit of providing a robust communications platform for electric grid enhancements that improve energy efficiency and service reliability.
The project plan calls for internet service provider GigaBeam Networks of Bluefield, Va., to own, install and operate the last-mile infrastructure needed to deliver broadband services to customers in the project area. GigaBeam will have access to the middle-mile facilities in phases as construction progresses. The phased-in approach will allow GigaBeam to coordinate its equipment installations with middle-mile construction and connect new broadband service customers on a rolling basis throughout the construction process.
Project construction is expected to begin within 180 days and be complete approximately 24 months after the start of construction. First year project costs will add 15 cents a month to the bill of the companies’ West Virginia residential customers using 1,000 kWh/month.
In 2019 West Virginia lawmakers passed legislation allowing electric utilities to submit broadband feasibility studies, and later that year the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council unanimously approved Appalachian Power’s feasibility study for the Logan and Mingo project. Further legislation passed in 2020 specified the PSC’s role in approving plans and associated cost recovery of middle-mile broadband projects submitted by electric public utilities in the state.