West Virginia Executive
“Connecting West Virginia”
By Samantha Cart
“Over the last decade, high-speed internet has become a necessity in business, education and health care.”
West Virginia leaders and legislators continue to push fast, reliable broadband to revitalize the struggling economy, Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini offers insight into how the Mountain State can become a global leader in connectivity.
Over the last decade, high-speed internet has become a necessity in business, education and health care. As providers and legislators work to improve connectivity in the Mountain State, many West Virginians still do not have access to what the Federal Communications Commission defines as advanced broadband. However, as demonstrated by the recent efforts to rebuild West Virginia communities devastated by flooding, the Mountain State has friends across the globe who care about her well-being.
Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini, founder and chief executive officer of YAS Capital Partners, LLC and executive director of the University of New Hampshire’s Broadband Center of Excellence, has a heart for West Virginia and her current broadband struggles. Backed by an international reputation for broadband expertise, Yassini is confident the Mountain State’s broadband solution is simple and imminent.
Many Paths, One Goal
It was as a student at West Virginia University (WVU) that Yassini first discovered his passion for the satellite communications industry, which led to a lifelong pursuit of helping people get connected. Known in the industry as the father of the cable modem, decades after graduating from WVU and becoming a distinguished alumnus, Yassini created and patented a viable cable modem and later made broadband IP available to the global cable industry.
“This topic is burning me inside and out,” says Yassini. “There are an estimated 30 million Americans and 4 billion people worldwide who are experiencing the same pain as the citizens of West Virginia. Broadband is one of the 21st century’s necessary utilities—not a luxury—because of its strong impact on commerce, education and society.”
Yassini believes creating a public-private partnership is the best approach for addressing connectivity in the Mountain State, as it would empower businesses and citizens to make progress while the state sorts out its financial shortcomings. In 2008, he launched the Yassini Broadband Knowledge Center in Boston, MA, an organization that offers research grants and facilities for investigating new ideas in broadband technology. According to Yassini, informed state and private leaders know broadband can create smart cities and campuses and encourage the adoption of technology. As a pioneer in broadband research, he suggests conducting research through West Virginia’s many universities to gather insight into low-cost technologies that will enable affordable broadband for all West Virginians.
However, because of the importance of broadband, Yassini believes the state should do whatever is necessary to secure the appropriate infrastructure. Senate Bill 16, which was introduced during the 2016 legislative session, suggested incentivizing providers to build out the last legs of the internet network that connects homes and businesses to the middle-mile network. “It was very encouraging to see the state Senate approve this bill,” says Yassini. “As I understand it, the incentives would have enabled about 12,000 homes and businesses to get internet for the first time. That would have been a good step for our state.”
A Boost to Business and Budget
A powerful, dependable broadband network has the potential to turn the tides of West Virginia’s economic struggle. A superior network would attract new businesses and help the state retain its waning millennial population.
“West Virginia faces a budget hole, and not an insignificant amount,” says Yassini. “It is widely known that broadband is an engine that can pay for itself over the course of years. It is possible investments in broadband could help the state reduce that budgetary imbalance by creating more jobs and increasing state tax revenue. I believe that has happened in New Hampshire, where our Broadband Center of Excellence is located. Using funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the state built 865 miles of fiber optic network that extends through all 10 counties. This network is used by various state agencies and is a tremendous asset to New Hampshire citizens.”
Yassini also suggests that broadband could help West Virginia save money by creating a centrally located hub to consolidate public services. Instead of every town and county using their own budget to pay for internet and phone services, Yassini recommends a broadband network with the power to meet the needs of the entire state.
“Local government is doing commerce the old-fashioned way,” he says. “If you had a broadband network, you could consolidate the services everybody needs for distributing police and fire departments, city payrolls and building permits. There are so many different ways states use information and services, and you have to pay money for the network and telephone lines anyway. With broadband, you could put them all in a central location instead of every town having its own system. You need a major, central location—central instead of distributive. That is the old-town mentality. Start consolidating.”
High-Speed, High Priority
Because rural communities are disproportionately affected by a lack of high-speed internet, Yassini says the state must start with a variety of ideas in order to find the one that best fits its needs. “Lead with the technology that provides the connectivity at the lowest cost,” he says. “Lead with public-private partnerships to demonstrate the value of broadband to businesses. Lead with executive level meetings with the CEOs of service providers, the West Virginia governor and key legislative leaders. Lead with positive cases by starting a competition to connect one small village and then grow by example.”
Because of his passion for West Virginia, Yassini insists the state must start making affordable broadband its highest priority in order to help communities and the state government.
“We must establish as a goal that by 2030, West Virginia will be fully connected and its citizens will enjoy high employment in addition to living in a great state,” he says. “We should position the state for the information age—perhaps it could become a storage and backup data center for the world. After all, the state was chosen to hold the second White House.”