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Broadband Co-ops

The Challenge 

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.

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. There are two options outlined in the West Virginia law:

Option 1 – State Pilot Project [W. Va. Code § 31G-1-10]

  • Three municipalities or counties, either individually or in conjunction with one another, establish a non-profit Co-op
  • Broadband Enhancement Council to develop guidelines for this Co-op
  • Legislature has to approve

Option 2 – 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 or as a business” (emphasis added)
  • Must adhere to formation and governance requirements set forth in Act

Get Connected

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 Co-op 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
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