Efforts of Pocahontas County to Secure USDA Reconnect Grants Being Blocked
New information was released during the Pocahontas County Broadband Summit on September 15th, as to why the efforts to secure US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Reconnect broadband grants keep getting denied. The summit was held at the Marlinton town Hall and was also made available on Zoom Meeting.
Chris Morris of CityNet said that even though the Broadband Council may not yet have been officially notified, his sources in the USDA have informed him that the county’s Reconnect 3 Grant application, like their previous Reconnect Grant applications, has also been denied. Morris said this keeps happening because another local carrier exercises its power to challenge these applications, claiming it is already providing high speed internet in those areas. That other company is believed to be Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks Telephone, Inc.
He said that the applications for the Reconnect 4 Grant just opened and must be submitted by November 2nd, but unless something changes, any application submitted by the county will also be challenged and subsequently be denied by the USDA. These Reconnect grants, if they were approved, would provide high speed broadband to much of the county.
Council Chairman Sarah Riley said “we cannot let them keep us out.” She suggested that maybe we could convince the USDA to only allow that other company to challenge the very limited areas of the county where the challenging company is actually providing their service. Riley suggested that the Broadband Council and even the County Commission should ask that other carrier to stop challenging and to withdraw their current challenges to these applications. She said the county should also complain to both of their US Senators about the USDA denying these applications based upon those challenges.
Morris said that during the FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) bidding, CityNet did win some areas of the county where they can install Broadband, which are mostly in the southern part of the county. Frontier, he said, won the majority of the privately owned portion of the county during that RDOF bidding process. He said CityNet will eventually install service in its RDOF-awarded areas of the county, but before those areas can be installed, CityNet must first complete its main fiber trunkline from Elkins to Lewisburg. They plan to reach Edray with this trunkline in 2023, then continue south down the Route 219 corridor. They plan to complete it through the county by the first quarter of 2024, Morris said.
He added that they are also preparing to install service in the areas the county won by the ARC Powergrant. That grant provides 2.5 million dollars to build service in an area North and East of Marlinton. CityNet is also spending an additional 1 million dollars of its own company money on this project. Morris said the ARC project is still in the design stage with completion also expected in the first quarter of 2024.
Once installed, Morris said CityNet service will include guaranteed speeds of 1000 MBS for both download and upload, at a cost of about $70.00 per month to customers, and will include Internet, TV, and telephone service. When asked about competition from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service, Morris said that until satellite service can figure out a way to exceed the speed of light, fiber service will provide much faster upload and download speeds at a lower cost.
Morris told this reporter that they will likely be blocked by Frontier from using government funding to extend service from their trunkline -when it is completed – into Marlinton, but CityNet plans to build that anyway using strictly company money.