Local ISPs May Be Excluded from BEAD Broadband Opportunities

At the May 9th Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Melissa O’Brien, the External Affairs Manager for West Virginia based Internet Service Provider (ISP,) CityNet, said that unless the State of West Virginia helps out smaller ISPs, most of the 1.2 billion dollars the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s (NTIA’s) Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program is providing to the state will be awarded only to large multi-state ISPs rather than to local West Virginia ISPs. She explained the reason for this is that for an ISP to bid on a BEAD project they are required provide a 10% line-of-credit/ performance bond and put up a 25% local match. This, according to O’Brien, is unaffordable to all but the largest national ISP’s. She concluded that CityNet is unable to compete with those national firms unless things change.

Mike Holstine said that the WV Broadband Council has contacted the Governor to try and get state aid to enable local ISPs to compete for the BEAD projects. Holstine also said that the NTIA says they will not reduce the 25% local match requirement, but, on a case-by-case basis, might relieve the 10% line-of-credit performance bond requirement.

Both Melissa O’Brien and Holstine said that BLENDS program funds (Broadband Loan Insurance Fund) is currently down to $10,000 in available money, and needs be replenished to help local ISPs apply for BEAD projects. Holstine said BLENDS is like a “rainy-day fund” for ISPs and suggested the Broadband Council should advocate for BLENDS to be replenished. Mike Holstine was assigned to draft an advocacy letter for this from the Council.

Ruthana Beasley of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, said ISPs only have until the end of May to apply for BEAD projects.

Melissa O’Brien said that before the 1.2 billion dollars in BEAD funds can only be awarded in West Virginia, every unserved address in the state has to have an approved plan to get broadband service, which is the principal goal of BEAD, with a secondary goal of providing broadband to underserved addresses. However, the NTIA considers any areas awarded under RDOF to already have an approved plan to get served, even if no effort has yet been made to provide service there. So, RDOF awarded areas are not eligible for BEAD funding.

Cory Nipper of the Thompson & Litten Company said the ARC Broadband Project is currently waiting for final approval of the Make Ready Pole Attachment agreements. Then, according to Amanda Smarr of Region 4, all the environmental paperwork needs to be sent to the state for approval, and when those approvals have been done, the project will be ready to go out for bid.  She is hopeful the bidding might begin in late summer, with possible construction starting at the end of the year or early in 2025. Construction should take 125 days (4 months.)

911 Director Mike O’Brien talked about the ARISE project, which is a WV and VA joint project to improve emergency communications in nearby areas of both states. He said that a consultant has been engaged to determine how emergency communications and activities can be improved at Greenbank without interference to the observatory.  He also said there have been discussions with T-Mobile about possibly setting up a tower in Durbin to provide cell service there, which will also help provide emergency communication to that area.

Melissa O’Brien said CityNet’s RDOF projects are now estimated to be starting in 2026.

Holstine asked the members if any of them has heard of Frontier beginning any RDOF work in the county. Nobody had any information about that, so he suggested the council should send Frontier another letter asking them for a timeline on their RDOF projects in the county, since they never provided that information after being sent a letter before.

Finally, Holstine said the Affordability Connection Program (ACP) subsidies, which had ended last month, might be reinstated since Congress is now favorably considering doing that.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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