West Virginia's Plan to Conquer the Digital Divide

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, August 25, 2023

Weekly Digest

West Virginia's Plan to Conquer the Digital Divide

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of August 21-25, 2023

Grace Tepper

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently working on digital equity plans. As they release draft plans seeking public feedback, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is sharing summaries focused on how states define their digital divides and their vision for reaching digital equity.

Last month, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development (WVDED) released the state's Draft Digital Equity Plan for public comment, asking stakeholders to weigh in on WVDED's strategy for bridging the digital divide. West Virginia’s Digital Equity Plan is a five-year, action-oriented roadmap for the WVDED—in collaboration with statewide partners—to ensure that every West Virginian can participate in today's increasingly digitally connected society.

West Virginia's Vision of Digital Equity

In shaping the Digital Equity Plan, WVDED actively solicited input from stakeholders, citizens, and state government leaders to define the state's vision.

West Virginia's vision for digital equity is to ensure that all West Virginians have the resources they need to participate in the digital world and achieve the economic benefits of digital equity.

Barriers to Broadband

Ninety-seven percent of West Virginians are considered part of covered populations, the highest percentage of any state in the United States. West Virginia faces a significant challenge in expanding internet coverage, speed, and availability. Thirty-five percent of broadband serviceable locations (BSLs) in West Virginia are either unserved, meaning individuals have access to broadband speeds below 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), or underserved, meaning individuals have access to speed above 25/3 Mbps but below 100/20 Mbps. At the same time, the cost of broadband is unaffordable for many. According to the state's draft digital equity plan, West Virginia ranks 47th out of 52 states and territories in terms of the percentage of the population with internet access.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) provides insight into the types of computing device(s) West Virginians own. WVDED refers to laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, and other wireless computing devices as a “computer.” According to the 2021 ACS estimates, only 88 percent of West Virginians own a computer. West Virginia is far behind the rest of the country; in other states, the average percentage with access to a computer is 92.4 percent, and the average without computer access is 7.6 percent. Access to a computer with an internet connection in West Virginia is 79.5 percent versus the national average of 86.3 percent.

Despite West Virginia’s significant progress in broadband deployment, the cost of high-speed broadband internet service remains a significant barrier to adoption. According to a national survey by The Pew Research Center, 45 percent of people without home broadband service mention the cost of connection as a barrier to access. Over 35 percent of this same demographic similarly mentioned the cost of a computer. This is more pronounced in households earning less than $30,000 annually: 43 percent report no broadband service. The lack of affordable internet access limits opportunities for education, healthcare, employment, and social connection, worsening the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. West Virginia’s affordability gap is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where high deployment costs and limited competition have driven prices beyond affordability for the area’s lower-than-average income households. 

As of May 2023, over 103,000 eligible West Virginia households are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. WVDED expects to have 250,000 eligible households enrolled in ACP by 2028 (contingent on continued program funding). The 2028 goal represents 68 percent of the state’s eligible households (368,000) or seven percentage points above the national best practice, as defined by EducationSuperHighway. Data shows approximately 39 percent of West Virginian households qualify for ACP. This compares to 36 percent of qualified households nationwide.

Implementation Strategy and Key Activities

WVDED created three goals and six objectives to guide its priorities and funding allocations under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and Digital Equity Act Programs. For the below objectives, the state aims to begin the programs in the first quarter of 2024, continue them full-scale until mid-2028, and wind down in late 2028.

Goal 1: Realize Affordable Connectivity

Objective:  Increase enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), contingent on the continued funding for the program.

  • Because WVDED will have information on what houses will receive broadband connections through the BEAD program, it will generate a list of homes in the affected areas and distribute mailers with information on ACP. These mailers will be distributed in tranches leading up to service availability. WVDED will pursue additional funds for these efforts through the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program.
  • WVDED will create standardized procedures for internet service providers (ISPs) to use when individuals sign up for service to ensure that those who qualify for ACP are at least aware of it. WVDED will then meet with the ISPs to ensure buy-in and that these procedures are carried out.
  • Scale the West Virginia 211 to provide information about the ACP to all callers.
  • Work with state government partners to develop a process for automatically enrolling qualified citizens in ACP as recipients of other income-based assistance programs.

Key Performance Indicators

Contingent on continued funding for the program, increase enrollment in ACP. Approximately 368,000 households are eligible for ACP.

  • Baseline: 103,000 households.
  • Near-term target: Increase enrollment by approximately 50 percent to reach 150,000 households.
  • Long-term target: Increase enrollment to reach a total of 68 percent of eligible households covered, or 250,000 households.

Objective: Complete broadband deployment as a part of the BEAD Five-Year Action Plan to increase the number of available ISPs, increase the pool of their customer sizes, and increase competition.

Goal 2: Secure Device Access and Affordability

Objective: Create a program to provide device distribution, lending, and recycling.

  • Break down the number of individuals who do not have a computing device into more granular figures, such as by age and which of the target population categories they belong to.
  • Work with existing partners that have experience managing programs to bring free or low-cost devices to individuals who need them and develop a comprehensive plan that addresses device procurement, advertisement, distribution, and maintenance.
  • Establish channels for procuring devices, such as donations from businesses and individuals, low-cost devices from manufacturers, and avenues for subsidies and Learn to Earnstyle programs.
  • Create device distribution channels by partnering with a minimum number of entities in localities with individuals who need devices. For instance, work with the Department of Education to create pathways to device ownership after graduation.
  • Explore avenues for device lending programs to fill gaps that ownership cannot.
  • Form a device recycling program for end-of-life devices and tie this to other state and county-level recycling efforts.
  • Develop a campaign to advertise the availability of these devices to individuals who need them.
  • Execute and adjust the plan, as necessary.

Key Performance Indicators

Increase the number of individuals in West Virginia who have access to a device that can connect to the internet.

  • Baseline: 85.6 percent of the state has access to a computing device at home.
  • Near-term target: Increase baseline by 10 percent.
  • Long-term target: 95 percent of West Virginias have access to a computing device that can connect to the internet. 

Objective: Ensure citizens receive technical assistance for their newly acquired devices.

  • Improve access to technical support by collaborating with libraries and other community organizations to implement a statewide Digital Navigator Program.
  • Consider implementing a Digital Natives model in collaboration with higher education institutions with student volunteers to assist residents with using internet-enabled devices.
  • Conduct technology fairs and engage government IT and students studying computer science to provide basic device-use skills.

Key Performance Indicators

Increase the number of community anchor institutions (CAI) that offer digital navigator programs.

  • Baseline: To be determined based on an assessment of CAIs that offer digital navigator programs.
  • Near-term target: Increase the baseline figure by 20 percent.
  • Long-term target: Increase the near-term target by 30 percent.

Goals 3: Elevate Digital Digital Skills and Accessibility of Public Services

Objective: Make digital literacy training in cybersecurity, privacy, telehealth, and more, available to all West Virginians, including all covered populations.

  • Work with public libraries to launch a statewide Digital Navigator Program for library staff to provide introductory digital skills training to residents
  • Partner with Digital Navigators to provide digital skills training through senior centers (WV Bureau of Senior Services, etc.) and other community organizations working with covered populations
  • Explore partnerships with organizations that are conducting related work including the Mountain State Digital Literacy Project
  • Study models to launch a Peer Learning Program (digital natives to empower West Virginians to educate their family members and friends on digital literacy
  • Collaborate with West Virginia Navigate to include digital literacy training providers in the Aging and Disability Resource Network
  • Collaborate with relevant organizations and training and education providers to:
    • help residents acquire a foundation in technology through digital skills training; and
    • offer intermediate technology courses and advanced computer certifications
  • Partner with an organization to create a user-friendly Digital Citizenship Guide/West Virginia Guide to Technology, in digital and hard-copy formats, tailored to each covered population
  • Leverage existing funds/annual allocations to advance digital equity and inclusion

Key Performance Indicators

Increase the percentage of individuals in West Virginia with beginner-level digital skills.

  • Baseline: West Virginia will create a baseline through a randomized survey across the state
  • Near-term target: Increase the baseline figure by 15 percent
  • Long-term target: Increase the baseline figure by 25 percent

Objective: Ensure websites and online services hosted by state agencies are accessible for all West Virginians.

  • The Governor’s Office should request that each state agency report on the status of compliance with WCAG and Section 508 standards
  • Based on the above findings, each state entity that either does not comply with established standards or is not sure should have the Office of Technology audit their websites and service pages for compliance and gaps
  • Using the list of gaps, the Office of Technology should procure an entity to ensure compliance with the aforementioned standards

Key Performance Indicators

Increase the number of public services in West Virginia that meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 Standards.

  • Baseline: To be determined based on an assessment of all government websites and services.
  • Near-term target: Ensure that at least 75 percent of state-agency-operated websites are compliant.
  • Long-term target: Ensure that 100 percent of state-owned websites are compliant.

West Virginia Wants to Hear From You

The public comment period for West Virginia's Draft Digital Equity Plan closed on August 21, 2023. The state is reviewing submissions and will release its full digital equity plan in December 2023.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Sept 7––Disability Advisory Committee Meeting (FCC)

Sept 27-28––Oregon Infrastructure Summit (Business Oregon)

Oct 2-6––Digital Inclusion Week 2023 (NDIA)

Oct 24––41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Breakfast (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)

Oct 26––Oregon Connections: Navigating the Funding Flood. (Oregon Connections)

Nov 15-17––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)



The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

For subscribe/unsubscribe info, please email headlinesATbentonDOTorg

Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

Share this edition:

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Grace Tepper.