Because West Virginia is a rural state, many individuals, businesses and towns lack access to high-speed, broadband internet service. Providers have not created the necessary networks due to the high cost of construction, limited population and investment risk. The lack of broadband access keeps West Virginians at a competitive disadvantage. High-speed internet spurs economic development, enhances educational opportunities and improves the delivery of health care.
The West Virginia Legislature Responds
In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature passed House Bill 3093, which includes the Cooperative Associations Act, also known as the “Broadband Co-op Law.” The Broadband Co-op Law encourages individuals and businesses to form unique corporate entities called cooperative associations, or “Broadband Co-ops,” to obtain high-speed internet services in their communities at reasonable prices. West Virginia law spells it out accordingly:
Cooperative Associations Act [W. Va. Code § 31G-2-1]
- 20 or more “qualified persons” form Co-op
- “Qualified person” – “A person who is engaged in the use of internet services, either in an individual capacity, as a political subdivision of this state, or as a business.” (emphasis added)
- Must adhere to formation and governance requirements set forth in Act
Broadband Co-ops can raise and attract the necessary capital to develop and maintain the high-speed internet networks that service providers thus far have been unwilling or unable to build.
Dig Once Policy Act [W. Va. Code §17-2E-1]
During the Legislature's 2018 session, a new article in the West Virginia Code created the Dig Once Policy Act. The Act encourages the Division of Highways and telecommunications carriers to collaborate on installing telecommunications facilities (including broadband and conduit) in public rights-of-way as part of the Division's road construction activities. This level of coordination will minimize costs to the carriers and minimize disruption and inconvenience to the traveling public.
Forming and launching a Broadband Co-op involves legal experience in entity formation and corporate governance, public and private finance, government relations and more. A deep understanding of corporate formalities and compliance, telecommunications and regulations, and technology is also required. The Bowles Rice Broadband Team has the knowledge to guide you through the entire process of Co-op formation and perpetuation, as well as provide other pertinent legal services, including:
- Preparing organizational documents and regulatory filings
- Advice on compliance with the Broadband Co-op law, the relevant business and nonprofit corporation laws, and antitrust (illegal monopoly) concerns
- Connecting broadband co-ops to technical support experts and consultants, and marketing broadband co-ops to internet service providers
- Negotiating contracts with internet service providers to ensure that broadband co-ops receive high-speed internet connectivity at a reasonable price
Presentations & Events
- Presentation: Top 5 Issues to Consider in Launching a Broadband Cooperative, by Peter Markham, Berkeley Bentley and Jeffrey RayEmbassy Suites, Charleston, West Virginia, January 23, 2018
- Presentation: West Virginia Broadband Cooperatives - An Overview, by Peter Markham, Berkeley Bentley and Jeffrey RayMarmet Town Hall, Marmet, West Virginia, November 2, 2017