Opinion: West Virginia Making Strides To Close The Digital Divide

Posted on 03/17/24

By: Gaylene Miller, AARP WV State Director
March 17, 2024

West Virginia has a historic opportunity to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to everyone in the state, no matter where they live or their circumstances.

Access, however, depends on more than wires, poles and other pieces of infrastructure. It also depends on making sure that internet service is affordable, and that all West Virginians have the tools and the skills to use it.

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The Mountain State is establishing itself as a leader in rural broadband expansion, as one of the first states in the country to have its digital equity plan approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The approval is the first step in unlocking critical federal funding that can help underserved communities – including older West Virginians, veterans, low-income families, tribal communities, people living in rural areas and others – to connect to the internet.

This plan was developed after intense collaboration with stakeholders, partner organizations and public participation, including a statewide survey. Through that work, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development found that while the state has made significant strides in recent years to close digital gaps, it continues to face numerous challenges, especially in rural areas. They found that the most prominently reported barriers to digital equity were lack of broadband service availability, available but unreliable services, and the high cost of broadband service.

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AARP WV State Director Gaylene Miller

AARP West Virginia, on behalf of our 230,000 members, applauds the approval of our state’s plan to expand high-speed internet access and adoption across all of our 55 counties. High-speed internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity for older West Virginians.

Better connectivity allows them to navigate online government services, participate in virtual medical services, find and maintain employment, meet daily needs, and connect socially. In short, it will improve the quality of life and help West Virginians 50+ safely age in place.

This plan is a blueprint to tear down the digital divide in our state. There are several key strategies that have been identified to reduce barriers to internet access. The West Virginia Department of Economic Development will pursue efforts to improve overall broadband availability and affordability, device availability and affordability, grow digital skills, and enhance online accessibility, inclusivity, privacy, and cybersecurity. This is no small task.

While putting this comprehensive plan together is a commendable start, there is still much work ahead of us. AARP West Virginia looks forward to working with the West Virginia Department of Economic Development and other key stakeholders toward successful implementation of this plan. Like other traditionally underserved groups, too many older adults have been left behind for too long.

We must also maintain our focus on ensuring that internet is affordable. As West Virginia’s plan demonstrates, wires alone can’t solve the problem of connectivity, which is why AARP remains committed to the continuation of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides direct support to West Virginians to help them afford internet service.

Eligible households can receive a benefit that provides a $30-$75 per month discount on the cost of high-speed internet. For many families, that can cover the entire cost of their service.

Right now, the program is at risk of running out of money in May. As West Virginia – working in collaboration with regional and local partners – works to close the digital divide, it’s our hope that Congress will maintain this critical program. Older adults in West Virginians are counting on action.

Gaylene Miller is the West Virginia State Director of AARP, the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to the more than 100 million Americans 50-plus and their families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment.

This story is provided by AARP West Virginia. Visit the AARP West Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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