Email: Chapter 31G, Article 1
§31G-1-1. Legislative findings and purpose.
The Legislature finds as follows:
(1) That it is a primary goal of the Governor, the Legislature and the citizens of this state, by the year 2020, to make every municipality, community, and rural area in this state, border to border, accessible to Internet communications through the expansion, extension and general availability of broadband services and technology.
(2) That although broadband access has been extended to many of West Virginia’s cities, towns, and other concentrated population areas, some areas of the state, mostly rural, remain unserved.
(3) That the issues which have hindered the provision of broadband access to rural areas of the state especially disadvantage the elderly and low-income households.
(4) That fair and equitable access to twenty-first century technology is essential to maximize the functionality of educational resources and educational facilities that enable our children to receive the best of future teaching and learning is essential to the future development of this state. A quality educational system of the twenty-first century should have access to the best technology tools and processes. Administrators should have the electronic resources to monitor student performance, to manage data, and to communicate effectively. In the classroom, every teacher in every school should be provided with online access to and the ability to deliver the best available educational technology resources to the students of West Virginia. Schools of the twenty-first century require facilities that accommodate changing technologies.
(5) Accordingly, it is the purpose of the Legislature to provide for the development of policies, plans, processes and procedures to be employed and dedicated to extending broadband access to West Virginians, and to their families, by removing restraint on the development of those services and for encouraging and facilitating the construction of the necessary infrastructure to meet their needs and demands.
For the purposes of this article:
(1) “Broadband” or “broadband service” means any service providing advanced telecommunications capability with the same downstream data rate and upstream data rate as is specified by the Federal Communications Commission and that does not require the end-user to dial up a connection, that has the capacity to always be on, and for which the transmission speeds are based on regular available bandwidth rates, not sporadic or burstable rates, with latency suitable for real-time applications and services such as voice-over Internet protocol and video conferencing, and with monthly usage capacity reasonably comparable to that of residential terrestrial fixed broadband offerings in urban areas: Provided, That as the Federal Communications Commission updates the downstream data rate and the upstream data rate the council will publish the revised data rates in the State Register within sixty days of the federal update.
(2) “Council” means the Broadband Enhancement Council.
(3) “Downstream data rate” means the transmission speed from the service provider source to the end-user.
(4) “Internet protocol address” or “IP address” means a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the internet protocol to communicate over a network.
(5) “Upstream data rate” means the transmission speed from the end-user to the service provider source.
(6) “Unserved area” means a community that has no access to broadband service.
§31G-1-3. Broadband Enhancement Council; members of council; administrative support.
(a) The Broadband Enhancement Council is hereby continued. The current members, funds, and personnel shall continue in effect and be wholly transferred from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Economic Development; except as may be hereinafter provided. With regard to the terms of the public members appointed under subdivision five, subsection (c) of this section, at the next regular meeting of the council following July 1, 2017, the currently serving public members shall draw by lot for the length of their terms, three members to serve for one additional year, three members to serve for two additional years and the last three members to serve for three additional years, with all public members in future to serve for the duration of the term described below.
(b) The council is a governmental instrumentality of the state. The exercise by the council of the powers conferred by this article and the carrying out of its purpose and duties are considered and held to be, and are hereby determined to be, essential governmental functions and for a public purpose. The council shall be situated within the Department of Economic Development for administrative, personnel, and technical support services only.
(c) The council shall consist of 13 voting members, designated as follows:
(1) The Secretary of the Department of Economic Development or his or her designee;
(2) The Chief Information Officer or his or her designee;
(3) The Vice Chancellor for Administration of the Higher Education Policy Commission or his or her designee;
(4) The State Superintendent of Schools or his or her designee;
(5) Nine public members that shall serve no more than three consecutive three-year terms from the date of their appointment and are appointed by and serve at the will and pleasure of the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, as follows:
(i) One member representing users of large amounts of broadband services in this state;
(ii) One member from each congressional district representing rural business users in this state;
(iii) One member from each congressional district representing rural residential users in this state;
(iv) One member representing urban business users in this state; and
(v) One member representing urban residential users in this state; and
(6) Additionally, the President of the Senate shall name two Senators from the West Virginia Senate, one from each party, and the Speaker of the House shall name two Delegates from the West Virginia House of Delegates, one from each party, each to serve in the capacity of ex officio, nonvoting advisory members of the council.
(d) A chair and vice chair shall be elected from the members of the council for a term of two years: Provided, That a chair or vice-chair may not serve more than two consecutive full or partial terms in that capacity. In the absence of the chair, the vice chair shall serve as chair. The council shall appoint a secretary-treasurer who need not be a member of the council and who, among other tasks or functions designated by the council, shall keep records of its proceedings.
(e) The council may appoint committees or subcommittees to investigate and make recommendations to the full council. Members of these committees or subcommittees need not be members of the council.
(f) Seven voting members of the council constitute a quorum and the affirmative vote of a simple majority of those members present is necessary for any action taken by vote of the council.
(g) The gubernatorial appointed members shall be deemed part-time public officials, and may pursue and engage in another business or occupation or gainful employment. Any person employed by, owning an interest in, or otherwise associated with a broadband deployment project, project sponsor, or project participant may serve as a council member and is not disqualified from serving as a council member because of a conflict of interest prohibited under §6B-2-5 of this code and is not subject to prosecution for violation of that section when the violation is created solely as a result of his or her relationship with the broadband deployment project, project sponsor, or project participant so long as the member recuses himself or herself from board participation regarding the conflicting issue in the manner set forth in §6B-2-5 of this code and the legislative rules promulgated by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
(h) No member of the council who serves by virtue of his or her office may receive any compensation or reimbursement of expenses for serving as a member. The public members and members of any committees or subcommittees are entitled to be reimbursed for actual and necessary expenses incurred for each day or portion thereof engaged in the discharge of his or her official duties in a manner consistent with the guidelines of the Travel Management Office of the Department of Administration.
(i) No person is subject to antitrust or unfair competition liability based on membership or participation in the council, which provides an essential governmental function and enjoys state action immunity.
§31G-1-4. Powers and duties of the council generally.
(a) The council shall:
(1) Explore any and all ways to expand access to broadband services, including, but not limited to, middle mile, last mile and wireless applications;
(2) Gather data regarding the various speeds provided to consumers in comparison to what is advertised. The council may request the assistance of the Legislative Auditor in gathering this data;
(3) Explore the potential for increased use of broadband service for the purposes of education, career readiness, workforce preparation and alternative career training;
(4) Explore ways for encouraging state and municipal agencies to expand the development and use of broadband services for the purpose of better serving the public, including audio and video streaming, voice-over Internet protocol, teleconferencing and wireless networking;
(5) Cooperate and assist in the expansion of electronic instruction and distance education services; and
(6) Explore ways to achieve digital equality of opportunity throughout the state, which is a condition where all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.
(b) In addition to the powers set forth elsewhere in this article, the council is hereby granted the authority to:
(1) Promote awareness of public facilities that have community broadband access that can be used for distance education and workforce development;
(2) Advise on deployment of e-government portals such that all public bodies and political subdivisions have homepages, encourage one-stop government access and that all public entities stream audio and video of all public meetings;
(3) Make and execute contracts, commitments and other agreements necessary or convenient for the exercise of its powers including, but not limited to, the hiring of consultants to perform the duties of the council;
(4) Acquire by gift or purchase, hold, or dispose of real property and personal property in the exercise of its powers and performance of its duties as set forth in this article; and
(5) Receive and dispense funds appropriated for its use by the Legislature to carry out its statutory duties.
(c) The council shall advise and make recommendations to the Office of Broadband, and shall coordinate with the office on bringing broadband service to unserved and underserved areas, as well as to propose statutory changes that may enhance and expand broadband in the state.
(d) The council shall report to the Secretary of Economic Development on or before December 1 of each year. The report shall include the action that was taken by the council during the previous year in carrying out the provisions of this article. The council shall also make any other reports as may be required by the Legislature or the Governor.
§31G-1-5. Creation of the Broadband Enhancement Fund.
All moneys collected by the council, which may, in addition to appropriations, include gifts, bequests or donations, shall be deposited in a special revenue account in the State Treasury known as the Broadband Enhancement Fund. The fund shall be administered by and under the control of the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Expenditures from the fund shall be for the purposes set forth in this article and are not authorized from collections but are to be made only in accordance with appropriation by the Legislature and in accordance with the provisions of article two, chapter eleven-b of this code.
§31G-1-6. Mapping of areas within state.
§31G-1-7. Retention of outside expert consultant.
(a) In order to assist the council with the highly technical task of categorizing the areas of the state, the council may retain outside expert consultants to assist in the purposes of this article. The experts may assist the Council to map the state on the basis of broadband availability, to evaluate and categorize data, to assist in public outreach and education in order to stimulate demand and to provide other support and assistance as necessary to accomplish the purposes of this article.
(b) The retention and contracting of all expert consultants shall be transparent, including specifically, making publicly available any contracts, retention agreements, payments and invoicing for services.
§31G-1-8. Public awareness and education.
In order to implement and carry out the intent of this article, the council may take such actions as it deems necessary or advisable in order to increase awareness of issues concerning broadband services and to educate and inform the public.
§31G-1-9. Collection of data.
Acts, 2018 Reg. Sess., Ch. 31.
§31G-1-11. Voluntary donation and easement programs.
(a) The council shall create guidelines for, and recommend to the Legislature a means of implementing a voluntary donation program to allow for pipeline, railroad, and other similar structures and rights-of-way in the state to be donated to the state for use by public or private entities to facilitate broadband service and availability through placement of fiber.
(b) The council shall create guidelines for, and recommend to the Legislature a means of implementing a program to allow for an easement program to be established to allow public or private entities to facilitate broadband service and availability through placement of fiber.
§31G-1-13. Protection of proprietary business information.
(a) Broadband deployment information provided to the council or its consultants and other agents, including, but not limited to, physical plant locations, subscriber levels, and market penetration data, constitutes proprietary business information and, along with any other information that constitutes trade secrets, shall be exempt from disclosure under the provisions of chapter twenty-nine-b of this code: Provided, That the information is identified as confidential information when submitted to the council.
(b) Trade secrets or proprietary business information obtained by the council from broadband providers and other persons or entities shall be secured and safeguarded by the state. Such information or data shall not be disclosed to the public or to any firm, individual or agency other than officials or authorized employees of the state. Any person who makes any unauthorized disclosure of such confidential information or data is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, may be fined not more than $5,000 or confined in a correctional facility for not more than one year, or both.
(c) The official charged with securing and safeguarding trade secrets and proprietary data for the council is the Secretary of Administration, who is authorized to establish and administer appropriate security measures. The council chair shall designate two additional persons to share the responsibility of securing trade secrets or proprietary information. No person will be allowed access to trade secrets or proprietary information without written approval of a minimum of two of the three authorized persons specified above.
§31G-1-14. Legislative rule-making authority.
In order to implement and carry out the intent of this article, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, at the direction and recommendation of the council, may propose rules for legislative approval, pursuant to the provisions of article three, chapter twenty-nine-a of this code.