Broadband Council’s Top Priority -O&M Agreement with CityNet Progressing
Reaching an operations and management contract agreement with CityNet is a top priority that must be completed before actual construction on the ARC Power-Grant broadband project begins construction. It was reported at the November 10th Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting that the council’s attorney, Josh Jarrell, has reviewed the draft agreement and forwarded it to CityNet for their review. The County Commission has scheduled their approval of the contract for their December 6th meeting. Once this agreement has been officially approved, engineering company Thompson & Litton (T&L) can move forward with the permitting process with First Energy for the use of their electric poles to string the fiber-optic for the project. Additionally, this agreement, which is based on the current finalized O&M Agreement that Roane County has with CityNet, will also serve as a template for all future broadband grants the county might receive.
Brian Tew of T&L reported that both Cory Nipper and Mike Holstine are currently out in the field collecting the data on the last couple of First Energy poles that will be needed to build this project.
The ARC Broadband Project is funded by 2.5 million dollars from the grant with an additional 1 million dollars from CityNet. When completed and operational, this project will provide broadband service to an area roughly east out of Marlinton along Route 39 through Huntersville and North on both Routes 28 and 92 to Dunmore.
Regarding this funding, Tew reported that T&L still has $11,432.50 remaining from the Broadband Study Grant, and $63,000 from the ARC Grant which is designated for permits and project management.
Sara Riley stated that since Frontier has been granted broadband exclusivity in vast areas of the county by the FCC’s RDOF grant, and since the USDA has advised the council that means they cannot approve future Reconnect Grants, the council needs to concentrate on applying for smaller USDA Community Connect Grants, which the USDA can still approve. Amanda Smarr of Region 4 said that the USDA agree that Community Connect is a better path forward.
Smarr said those grants are limited to 3 million dollars each, but the county can apply for one every year. She also said CityNet is assisting to identify priority areas of the county to be included in future Community Connect grant applications.
It was said that because the Green Bank Observatory’s Quiet Zone limits cell service in the county, that limitation might actually assist the county in being approved for these Community Connect grants.
Sarah Riley also said the council is looking into the “Just Transition Fund” which helps communities in obtaining federal broadband funding, and Smarr said the state is currently working on future funding options.
Riley said she recently completed two interviews with Re-imagine Appalachia’s white paper on rural broadband, and she asked for any good readers to contact her if they would like to review drafts of that white paper to help improve it.