A Wired West Virginia Begins With Small Wins

Date Written by Jason Keeling on March 30, 2017

When it comes to the digital world, West Virginia remains one of the least-connected states.

This is a competitive and public disadvantage we can no longer afford to overlook. It impacts the future of education, business, safety and health care in our state.

The politics of broadband here are significant, and to date some elected officials, heavily influenced by Big Cable and Big Telecom, have figuratively moved at dial-up speed in terms of prioritizing the matter.

Last year, the West Virginia Legislature did not act on recommendations to invest state funds for construction of a “middle-mile,” which is the equivalent of an internet superhighway.

At the same time, our neighboring state implemented the “KentuckyWired” project, enabled by public-private partnership legislation that will advance millions in capital toward construction of their statewide fiber optic network.

Fortunately this year, the West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a measure that could spur some improvements, under the current terms of House Bill 3093.

This potential law, advanced last week to the state Senate for consideration, would enable up to three cities and counties to collaborate for purposes of building a high-speed internet service.

It would also formally allow nonprofit internet co-ops to establish where at least 20 or more rural businesses and families cooperate, letting them maximize federal grant funds that are readily available for such purposes.

The legislation would also eliminate a tactic being used by some companies to slow access to telephone poles from competitors working to expand fiber optics.

“Industries of the Future” author Alec Ross recently visited his Charleston hometown to lecture about innovation. He emphasized that expanded data access is key to West Virginia’s participation in the information age and vital for retaining young people.

Moving West Virginia from worst to first on this issue is not something that will happen overnight, but even incremental changes can lead to results.

In “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg accounts the significance of minor decisions, not only those made by individuals, but also those of institutions.

Minor decisions that are positive function as a “small win,” he says.

“Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people bigger achievements are within reach.”

West Virginia is in the midst of a budget crisis, but this bill is revenue neutral and simply eliminates artificial barriers to competition, allowing this market to be expanded by entrepreneurs not just on Wall Street, but also those residing and working on Main Streets.

While the Legislature may not be willing to invest state funds for broadband expansion at present, it should at least empower local communities and small businesses willing to take initiative, and over time this small action could have lasting effects.

–This column first appeared in the Daily Mail Opinion page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The World is Fast: Small-Town America Must Speed Up

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 23, 2016

Segments of Appalachia are at the forefront of economic crisis. Further commitment to broadband infrastructure and technology adoption could enable needed diversification.

Information technology and exchange are leveling the playing field across the global economy. Areas traditionally isolated are now able to become competitive, Thomas Friedman contends in The World is Flat.

The primary engine that enables participation in the present Digital Age is internet connectivity. And the fastest, most reliable form of such comes from wired broadband infrastructure.

A large percentage of the United States is well connected, operating at speeds that allow for extremely efficient data transfer and full participation in the information economy. But much of rural America remains under served.

People who have fast, reliable and affordable access to the internet possess immediate economic, educational and civic advantages over those who do not, hence the term “digital divide.”

Since Friedman’s work was published in 2005, the Federal Communications Commission has redefined broadband data speeds as 25 megabits per second download / 3 Mbps upload, an increase from its previous 4 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload standard.

However, the most competitive technology locations are operating at speeds almost 1,000 times faster than the above FCC definition, running on fiber-optic connections that facilitate gigabit download and upload speeds. For a simple test of your own connection, visit www.fast.com or www.speedtest.net.

So in this Digital Age, the world is not only flat, but the world is fast.

Quality internet access is no longer a luxury, it is central to modern commerce and life. It is a necessity equally important as electricity, water and natural gas. Think of it as the “fourth utility,” which can enable remote telework, distance learning, telehealth and numerous other advantages that go far beyond streaming Netflix.

Responsive Countryside: The Digital Age and Rural Communities, by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., accounts the challenges faced by small localities. He also exhibits the promise displayed by small-sized “intelligent communities.”

In a recent TEDx Talk, Gallardo defines such towns as those that “through crisis or foresight, have come to understand the challenges of the digital economy and taken conscious steps to prosper in it.”

These communities are working to obtain not only globally competitive connectivity, but they are also dedicating strategic effort to facilitate adoption of such technologies.

Within this puzzle lies an opportunity to answer an age-old question in many regions: How do we retain youth?

As Millennials assume the workforce’s majority and Boomers gradually exit, these two generations, while separated by age, technical proficiency and political influence, are united by their interest to create a better tomorrow.

This requires those in power to acknowledge the information economy and recognize its potential. They should listen to the needs of Millennials (and GenX) to create jobs and facilitate technology adoption. And they must take calculated steps to ensure investment and resource dedication to the effort.

Fortunately corporate and private companies have been creating lanes to move the information super highway. But the traffic rate is increasing exponentially, sufficient access limitations remain for many, and there is much more infrastructure to complete.

Across the country, some proactive state and local policymakers have worked to establish open-access networks and public-private partnerships. Many of these ventures are happening in places far from Silicon Valley; communities like McKee, Ky., Huntsville, Ala., Wilson, N.C. and Ammon, Idaho.

In small-towns and more rural states across America, there is a choice to be made. Do we join the global economy or sit on the sidelines pining about the way things used to be? It’s time to look at the facts and decide, because populations across the world are moving on, fast.

- Keeling is a public relations and communications professional. For further updates see www.twitter.com/jasonkeeling. This column first appeared in the Daily Mail Opinion page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Can W.Va. Learn from Scottish Independence Movement?

Date Written by Jason Keeling on September 17, 2014

In the Eighteenth Century numerous Scots sailed from the Old World and emigrated toward the promise of a life with new opportunities. Many of them settled throughout the native lands of what is now West Virginia.

Remnants of this ancestry endure throughout the state. Bridgeport hosts a Scottish Festival annually, the town of Glasgow replicates the namesake of Scotland’s largest city, and West Virginia University has adopted a form of plaid officially approved by the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh.

While this heritage is acknowledged from a nostalgic perspective, perhaps greater attention should be focused on modern day Scotland, for we may glean insight from its most pressing challenge and find inspiration to consider more progressive thinking at home.

Scotland spurred cultural Enlightenment in the 1700s and it now seeks to construct a contemporary transformation. On Sept. 18 its citizens will vote on the following referendum: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

That nation’s political leadership is heading the charge to gain independence from the United Kingdom it has belonged to for over 300 years.

A significant amount of decisions affecting Scotland are presently made in chambers of the UK Parliament, in London.

Yet only nine percent of that body’s House of Commons are composed of representatives from Scotland and the House of Lords are unelected. So issues of taxation, infrastructure, and economy are predominately made by officials outside their country.

This system of government has been in place longer than our state has existed; but the Scottish people now have the opportunity to move in a new direction.

Leadership and courage are the factors that have enabled such a choice.

It is not a sword-yielding Braveheart William Wallace advancing this historical moment, but the tenacity of political leaders, First Minister Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party (SNP), who have worked to produce a series of actions setting this stage, despite a myriad of criticisms outlining challenges that could face an independent Scotland.

There are many nuances to leadership, but the ability to foresee future needs and expedite modernization in the public interest is critical. This requires going beyond the status quo and instead cultivating a willingness to think and work differently.

Over the last year polling has indicated the independence measure had little chance of passing, but in recent weeks an upsurge in support suggests a dead heat between those favoring a new direction and others opposed to this significant adjustment.

Whether the Scottish referendum passes, the needle has obviously been moved, and its people may feel emboldened to press on in numerous ways that benefit the greater good.

As Americans, perhaps we should ask ourselves if our current leaders are challenging us to move forward into a new age, whether at the federal or local level, and if not, let’s become more inclined to speak up about our own expectations for a better country and state, until the culture begins to shift toward one that takes more calculated risks.

- A similar version of this post first appeared in The Charleston Gazette on Sept. 14.

Start Up the Bus: Service Between Morgantown and Charleston Established

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 28, 2014

Image Credit: Barons Bus LinesTravelers can now park their car and hop aboard a bus for trips between Charleston and Morgantown, beginning July 1. The service is provided by Barons Bus Lines and the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

WiFi service and other amenities will be included for passengers. There will be stops in Clendenin, Flatwoods, Weston, Clarksburg and Fairmont. One-way ticket prices range from $3 to $15. Free runs will be provided from July 1 through July 7.

“The project is part of a nationwide effort to connect rural areas and urban centers that result in connections of greater regional, statewide, and national significance,” according to the Barons’ website.

Here are full details regarding tickets, pick up locations and other information.

Image Credit: Barons Bus Lines.

You Make a Better West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 20, 2014

Most everyone wants to see improvements: better communities, education, jobs, etc. But who is responsible for moving the needle in a positive direction?

It’s easy to wait for others to take on the tasks at hand. They need to do this, they need to do that.

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” This quote from a 1st century rabbi challenges us to think more deeply about how change begins.

Does this mean we are each responsible for starting a revolution? Maybe not. But the words do call upon us to observe immediate needs and answer the call.

Many people do this on a daily basis. Some get paid, others volunteer, but regardless, a sense of duty creates forward movement.

Look around, businesses are succeeding, community initiatives and employees are working, teachers are educating, activists are gathering. Throughout cities, towns and countrysides, people are helping in some way. You are helping in some fashion.

What else needs to be done? When considering answers the realization might occur that you can aid progress. So take on that task. Become informed about that issue. Join that group. Vote for that candidate. Write that letter to your elected representative. Or just help your neighbor.

These are the components that make a better state, and on this West Virginia Day, here’s to you. Regardless of how big or small the next effort, thanks for doing something.

Why Stay in West Virginia?

Date Written by Jason Keeling on May 23, 2014

#WhyIStay Photo from @SPowellHenningA relatively small percentage of West Virginians say they would like to move away, while some states across the nation, like Maryland and New Jersey, are much more likely to see people leave, according to a recent Gallup poll.

With this in mind, West Virginia Public Broadcasting decided to question what factors influence people to maintain residence here. The exploration was not scientific in nature, but simply anecdotal, and participants were asked to offer their insights via the social networks of Instagram and Twitter, using photography and the #WhyIStay “hashtag,” which allows for responses to be easily tracked.

The feedback has been composed into an interactive map, and it reveals various reasons people stay, such as “family, roots, community, authenticity”; “country is good for the body, heart and soul”; “the family farm”; and there were numerous references to the state’s majestic outdoors, including places such as Coopers Rock, Canaan Valley, Dolly Sods and state parks.

So readers, feel free to chime in via social media or leave a blog comment here. Why do you stay in West Virginia?

- Photo by @SPowellHenning via Instagram -

‘Enchantment’ Could Help Causes in West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on December 12, 2013

Persuasive communications can significantly impact business ventures and public issues. As West Virginians continue to seek improved economic and civic conditions, perhaps we can learn something from the perspective of a notable author.

Enchantment, by Guy Kawasaki, highlights various methods to more effectively promote an enterprise or cause, with online technologies offering the means to achieve better results.

However, tools alone do not make a masterpiece; they must be used, with skill. Although people can now easily set up social media accounts, blogs and websites, how they implement these components will determine their success.

With this in mind, Kawasaki offers a distinction between merely communicating, and instead enchanting, which he describes as “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea.”

To enchant an audience requires various strategic elements that are not necessarily difficult, but often overlooked or discarded.

For example, the importance of being likeable, which requires us to share personal stories, passions and agendas. Doing so in a manner that does not demand others share our values, but instead invites them to understand and interact.

This can help foster a community devoted to fulfilling a shared and mutually beneficial mission. But establishing such movement is a process that necessitates an ongoing effort to connect with others, grow networks and facilitate an identified purpose such as selling or advocating something.

Kawasaki’s work goes into significantly greater detail about how to achieve the above objectives. To the thousands of West Virginia small business owners and numerous interest group leaders, although you may be using the online space with some sense of purpose, it could help you gain further insight to support your ambitions. For those yet to start such an endeavor, it might set you on course for using the Internet in a constructive manner. Good luck.

- JK -

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Readers are welcomed to comment about people and organizations in the state that provide examples of causes using the Internet effectively.

This post was composed for graduate coursework at Marshall University’s W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications.