Pocahontas Broadband Council Celebrates 2 Years of Broadband Accomplishment
On Thursday, April 27th the Pocahontas County Broadband Council held their first personally attended regular meeting, previous meetings have been virtual. It was held in the community room of the Marlinton Library, where they celebrated county broadband accomplishments over the past two years. Some of these accomplishments included:
- The Broadband Council obtaining the Appalachian Regional Commission Broadband Grant (ARC Grant,) which, while still being implemented, will bring true broadband service to parts of the middle of the county when completed. This was named the number one broadband accomplishment in Pocahontas County.
- The Pocahontas County Broadband Council was formed. Which was the first one formed in West Virginia, and remains one of the most active.
- The broadband mapping data developed by the Broadband Council’s data collection surveys are know as some of the best in the state.
- CityNet brought broadband to Snowshoe and eventually to Cass.
- The Spruce Knobs-Seneca Rocks Telephone Company expanded in the northern end of the county.
Cory Nipper of the Thompson and Litton Company (T&L) provided an update on the progress of the ARC Grant. He said further progress is stalled until they obtain the completed utility pole agreements from First Energy (Mon Power) and Frontier Communications which will allow CityNet, the ARC Grant ISP, to string fiber wire to those poles. He said lawyers for Mon Power are having the utility duplicate the individual pole surveys that T&L has already done. Mike Holstine said the WV Public Service Commission has already worked out the pole issues.
Nipper was asked if we need to ask the ARC for an extension of time to complete the grant project because of the delays, and he said that will more than likely be done, but it is routine.
Holstine said that the winners of the FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) area broadband bids are required to meet build out timelines on their broadband projects, but don’t have to be completely finished for about 7 or 8 years. To our knowledge Frontier has not even started on their RDOF projects and are in year 3. Holstine said the only penalties for not meeting the timeline deadlines during construction are minimal fines.
Sarah Riley suggested that we need the County Commission to ask both Frontier and CityNet for quarterly reports about the progress of their RDOF broadband projects.
During the discussion of the newest federal grants the council is looking at applying for -the USDA’s Community Connect Grants, which are smaller grants but a multiple number of these can be applied for, Amanda Smarr from Region 4 said they need to identify eligible areas of the county for these applications, since the USDA has placed all granted RDOF areas to be off limits for these, and the FCC has declared all areas awarded by RDOF are off limits to any projects that involve federal funds. Mike Holstine said that ruling rules out most of the populated areas of the county. He can only think of a small area from Edray to Campbeltown that might be eligible, but Shentel has already built out a little of that area. The deadline to file the Community Connect Grant is June 20, 2023.
Sarah Riley suggested that if we can be awarded any Community Connect Grant, no matter how small, it will strengthen the council’s case to object to being locked out of the RDOF areas. She said the council needs to appeal that RDOF limitation to the USDA and to our U.S. Senators.
Regarding the National Telephonic Information Agency’s (NTIA) Broadband Equity, Access Deployment, known as the BEAD Program, Amanda Smarr said the next step is to have community meetings with the identified groups. She also said it is believed the RDOF federal funding restrictions would likely close the RDOF awarded areas to BEAD funded projects as well.
There was a discussion about the effects of the Starlink satellite internet service has on the county, and on the Green Bank Observatory’s Quiet Zone. Mike Holstine, who used to be the director of the observatory before retiring, said the Green Bank Observatory is negotiating with Starlink, and he guesses they reach an agreement to perhaps have their satellites power-down when immediately over the observatory. It was pointed out that fiber lines are faster, more affordable, more resistant to bad weather, and more durable then Starlink service.