Pocahontas Broadband Council is Working to Improve Internet Service
While Pocahontas County is one of the most beautiful counties in West Virginia and in fact even on the East Coast, that very same rural isolation that attracts tourists here has also limited job opportunities for those who are hardy enough to live here. Compound the fact that there are no interstate highways here with cell service and internet access being either non-existent or very sketchy in most of the county, businesses tend to choose more accessible areas to locate in. Many of our young people tend to move to other places when they graduate from high school, leaving this a county with a diminishing and aging population.
However, as the pandemic has taught the entire country, people can very successfully work remotely from their homes and avoid the commute to work, provided that there is very fast and very reliable internet connectivity. Certain businesses could also operate very well here if they have that kind of internet access. So, it has become obvious that one way to keep and even grow our younger population is to solve that digital access problem here in the county.
A group of dedicated citizens has been working with the County Commission and the Region 4 Planning and Development Council in an effort to do just that. They are the Pocahontas Broadband Council. After their application for a broadband Implementation grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development was denied, the Broadband Council redoubled their efforts and are planning to apply for a similar broadband implementation grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission or ARC.
The Pocahontas Broadband Council held a meeting via Zoom on April 14th. This meeting was chaired by Sarah Riley and attended by about 13 members.
At the meeting, it was announced that they will not be applying for the $50,000 ARC technical assistance or T/A broadband grant since the State Broadband Office has advised that if they apply for the T/A grant it could actually hurt their chances for getting the 3-million-dollar ARC Implementation grant so they will use about $20,000 of the implementation money to cover their T/A expenses. Those expenses include monies for project management, website development and management, and collecting data from the community.
As part of the data collection, the Council is currently asking residents to help gather the data that will be needed to map the broadband speed needs assessment for the county. Citizens can log onto a speed test website to do that. Here is a link to that website: https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/75e35c66dcce4069818235432a8d577a
Amanda Smarr from Region 4 said this survey is currently the number one priority of the Broadband Council. Also, every resident who takes this speed test by Wednesday, April 21st will be entered into a drawing to win a kayak.
The newest initial broadband coverage map proposed for this ARC grant was presented. It is smaller than had been hoped for because of the increased anticipated cost for providing coverage. It now runs roughly from Marlinton East on Rt. 39 then up Rt. 28 but only to Dunmore. This area will include about 12 businesses and about 1000 residences. The Broadband Council plans to seek additional coverage areas with future grants which will hopefully eventually cover all of the county, but it is a step-by-step process.
John Tuggle from Region 4 said it is still unknown if any money received from the recently passed Federal COVID Relief bill can be used to help with broadband expansion. He also said City Net has been very helpful as an advisor regarding the county’s efforts to get broadband.
The Broadband Council meets virtually at 11 a.m. on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month