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It would seem like one of the keywords in West Virginia the past few years has been broadband.

From politicians, at all levels, to economic experts, all seem to agree that broadband is essential to progress in the Mountain State but few can handle the basic questions on who, what, where and how Mountaineers can be best connected to fast internet access.

At the center of that confusion is the uncertainty of the accuracy of the broadband connection maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission.

Those maps and that data direct federal dollars to much-needed infrastructure projects for those who aren't connected or who are connected but lack adequate speed and service. 

In March, the state's two U.S. senators, Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, joined forces with a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation which would incorporate consumer, local and state data into how the FCC formulates broadband maps.

Now, Capito and New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan have introduced the "Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act."

That legislation, if passed, would direct the FCC to determine if access to mobile and broadband services is comparable to service provided in urban areas.

“As we work to close the digital divide across the country, setting a national standard is important in order to measure progress,” Capito said in a news release. “I’m proud to sponsor this bill because by requiring the FCC to set that standard, we can better identify how we can build out broadband quicker and more effectively across rural areas like West Virginia.”

Hassan labeled access to high-speed internet a necessity in today's innovation economy.

“Our bipartisan legislation takes an important step to ensure that people and businesses in both rural and urban communities are able to receive similar access to wireless and broadband services," the New Hampshire senator said.

First introduced in the last Congress, Capito and Hassan's bill was placed on the Senate's legislative calendar in October but never voted on.

Currently, 66 bills across both chambers of Congress have been introduced this year.

During the last Congress, 2017 to 2019, a total of 186 bills were introduced that had some broadband component; nine passed through both chambers.

Not all rural states are waiting for federal action.

Just last week, the governor of Arkansas announced a bold plan which would develop broadband access throughout that southern state.

According to Statescoop, Gov. Asa Hutchinson set a goal date of 2022 for each community in Arkansas with a population greater than 500 to have broadband access.

In a state which is said to be the least-connected, Hutchinson had already accomplished the task of connecting every K-12 educational facility in Arkansas to broadband in 2017.

Email: mcombs@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH

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