Pocahontas Broadband Council Contacting the FCC RE: Frontier’s RDOF Approval
Continuing concerns about the pending FCC approval of Frontier’s broadband areas in Pocahontas County under the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) were discussed at the April 14th County Broadband Council meeting.
Mike Holstein said that he is aware of a person who is a friend of the FCC Chairman, who is suggesting that citizens who are concerned about Frontier’s pending RDOF approval, should consider writing their concerns to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, 445 Twelfth Street SW, Washington, DC 20554. Holstein said that Frontier’s approval now depends on the FCC’s financial review of Frontier’s credit and ability to build out broadband in the areas of the county they won in the RDOF bidding. It was suggested that anyone writing the FCC about this should let the FCC know about Frontier’s performance history here, and maybe ask them to delay any decision of Frontier’s RDOF bids until after the USDA’s Reconnect Grand is approved. Holstein also said that the USDA is willing to fund those areas if their Reconnect Grant is approved first..
In an update on the already approved ARC Power Grant, Region 4’s Amanda Smarr said the environmental work on the project is complete and submitted to the state, and actual construction seems about to begin.
John Tuggle of Region 4 said the Board of Education has been approved for their $432,000 Distance Learning Grant, which is for computer devices for students. He said they may also get an equal amount from Earmark funding from the both US Senators, but those can take a year and a half for those funds to become available to the BOE.
They also discussed retaining some ownership over any broadband system built under a grant. Most people felt that by keeping ownership of a few strands of every fiber optic line built would give the county more control over any broadband service and could allow those strands to be used for county or economic development purposes.
It was stated that the Reconnect Grant application and the NTIA grant application remain pending.
Tuggle said the Governor vetoed the WV State Broadband bill, but even though that bill contained some good things, it also contained a requirement that any broadband projects contain open access for any ISP to participate in any project, which would hurt efforts to get new broadband in rural areas, since it would make it unprofitable -especially in rural areas like Pocahontas County -for any ISP to build a system only to have other broadband service provides be able to use it.
The possible future meeting with Frontier was also discussed. That meeting would be held at Frontier’s request so that they can try and show that they are changing their ways and becoming more responsive to customer service. Everyone was highly skeptical, but agreed it was a good idea to hear them out. Frontier wanted the meeting to be closed to the public, but, as Caroline Sharp and Joe Kaffl pointed out, and Sarah Riley seemed to agree with, any meeting must be transparent to the public or the public would become suspicious of the council. Riley suggested that there could be a way to prevent the meeting from devolving into an uncontrolled public attack on Frontier, and yet still be open for the public to see. She suggested the council revise their broadband survey to additionally collect people’s complaints about Frontier’s service, which can be politely presented by the council to Frontier executives and engineers at the meeting to get their responses. Adding a question to the survey, such as “if you are a Frontier customer, what would you like us to ask Frontier about?” No date for such a meeting has yet been set.