CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded Appalachian Power a $25 million grant for its plan to expand its fiber optic data network used to manage the power grid and make broadband access available to approximately 22,000 currently unserved households in southern West Virginia.
The project scope related to the NTIA grant includes constructing 658 miles of new “middle mile” fiber optic cable and utilizing fiber strands along another 297 miles of the company’s existing fiber infrastructure in parts of Raleigh, Mercer, Wyoming, McDowell and Summers counties. An internet service provider (ISP) will lease access to fiber strands and construct the “last-mile” connections needed to provide internet service to businesses and households.
“We have worked for more than a century to ensure that all of our customers have access to reliable electric service,” said Aaron Walker, Appalachian Power president and COO. “Now, we have a unique opportunity to help expand access to another essential service – high-speed internet. Facilitating broadband access in unserved rural areas will improve education and job opportunities, help small businesses connect with new customers and ensure essential service providers like hospitals, public safety and libraries can connect with their peers.”
The West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council unanimously approved the project plan in March 2023. Appalachian Power secured an agreement with an ISP in May and plans to file for project approval with the Public Service Commission in August.
“Access to affordable, reliable broadband is vital to the success and growth of our communities across West Virginia,” Senator Manchin said. “That’s why I helped author the $65 billion broadband provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including dedicated funding for middle mile projects like this one. This announcement is great news for Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell, Mercer and Summers counties, and I applaud Appalachian Power for their innovative approach to making necessary improvements to their grid while also bringing broadband connectivity to Southern West Virginia. I have made clear that rural states like West Virginia should receive their fair share of funds as we continue to work on broadband deployment, and I will continue working with federal agencies, state officials and communities to bring broadband coverage to every corner of the Mountain State.”
“Connecting West Virginia with strong, reliable broadband service has been a priority since my first day in the Senate. Through my Capito Connect Program, I have worked to expand broadband access across our state, and today is another big step forward. I’m thrilled to see NTIA providing support to southern West Virginia so we can continue our work to connect that last home, last school, and last business with reliable broadband service,” Senator Capito said.
Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, said, “This $25 million award to AEP, developed in coordination with the WV Office of Broadband, underscores the tremendous success and expertise of Governor Justice’s broadband deployment team. This middle mile infrastructure will enable faster connections at a lower cost with greater economic growth for citizens throughout southern West Virginia. We are pleased that West Virginians will benefit from this innovative and cooperative effort to provide broadband connectivity to every address in our beautiful state.”
The company also has under construction a 363-mile broadband expansion project in Logan and Mingo counties that was approved in June 2021. In addition to facilitating broadband expansion, the projects will connect utility equipment and facilities owned by Appalachian Power, allowing more efficient and effective management of the power grid.
Appalachian Power has 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee (as AEP Appalachian Power). It is part of American Electric Power, which is focused on building a smarter energy infrastructure and delivering new technologies and custom energy solutions. AEP’s approximately 17,000 employees operate and maintain the nation’s largest electricity transmission system and more than 224,000 miles of distribution lines to efficiently deliver safe, reliable power to nearly 5.6 million regulated customers in 11 states. AEP is also one of the nation’s largest electricity producers, with approximately 31,000 megawatts of diverse generating capacity, including more than 6,900 megawatts of renewable energy.