Bowles Rice Appointed Outside Counsel to West Virginia Office of Broadband

Photo of Bowles Rice Appointed Outside Counsel to West Virginia Office of Broadband
February 13, 2024

In September of 2023, Bowles Rice submitted a formal response to a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) from the West Virginia Attorney General's office (“WVAGO”) to serve as outside counsel to the West Virginia Office of Broadband (“WVOB”). On February 13, 2024, we received a written determination from the WVAGO officially appointing Bowles Rice outside counsel to the WVOB.

This appointment is recognition of the firm's forward-looking vision as well as the great work Peter Markham and Jim Kelsh have done in service to the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council (“WVBEC”) since 2018 – an engagement the firm also won via a competitive RFP process. Peter's and Jim's insights and experience were critical in securing this new and expanded engagement with the WVOB.

In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature created the WVBEC, then made up of volunteer board members from around the state and employees from the Department of Commerce. The importance of broadband was being increasingly recognized over time at the federal and the state levels. In 2018, the WVBEC saw the need for outside counsel, and Bowles Rice was selected in a competitive process. Initially, our work largely consisted of providing guidance on Open Governmental Proceedings Act compliance and other fairly modest demands. Our role grew as the WVBEC worked to maximize the benefit West Virginia could pull from the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – at the time, the largest federal outlay for the expansion of broadband, $20.4 billion nationwide with $362 million awarded to West Virginia projects, administered by the FCC.

Then, the indispensability of broadband became apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. The American Rescue Plan Act awarded $236 million to the state to administer its own broadband expansion grant program. Based upon things learned through involvement with the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, Bowles Rice worked hand in hand with the WVBEC, the Department of Commerce, and the WVBEC's consultants to stand up a new broadband grant program with four different types of awards and evaluative criteria to apply to grant applicants and model grant agreements in the attempt to get a program in operation and making awards, all in compliance with state and federal law, as explained by the Department of Treasury. West Virginia is consistently one of the five fastest states in awarding federal broadband funds.

Further federal money has followed with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act – the state will be receiving close to $2 billion for broadband expansion from all sources. We continue to be involved with grant agreement negotiations, and concerns with implementation of awards, including access to poles.