Pocahontas Broadband Council Provided Status of Awarded and Potential Grant Funding
At their February 10th meeting, the Pocahontas County Broadband Council received status reports on three broadband grants. The already approved Appalachian Regional Commission’s Power Grant – which we will refer to simply as the ARC Grant; The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s broadband Grant, which we will refer to as the NTIA Grant; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Broadband Reconnect Round 3 Grant, referred to as the Reconnect Grant.
Regarding the ARC Grant, it was awarded to the county last fall in the amount of 2.5 million dollars. Amanda Smarr of Region 4 explained that Citynet has been selected as the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for that grant. Smarr said that once the environmental study for that grant is completed and approved by the state, actual construction can begin. Mike Holstine said Citynet would like to come and do a Townhall about the ARC Project, but suggested this be done in several months in conjunction with the actual groundbreaking of the project.
No one had any information of the NTIA’s national broadband program except that 46 million dollars has been reserved for West Virginia. No grant application information has thus far been announced.
Region 4 and City Net are finishing up on their application for the Reconnect grant. That application must be submitted by noon on March 9, 2022. John Tuggle of Region 4 said the team putting that application together is “ahead of schedule.” The Reconnect grant has the potential to be able to provide broadband service to a large part of Pocahontas County if approved. Smarr said that the grant amount from the USDA Rural Development’s Reconnect Grant would be about 10.8 million dollars and the local match can be the 2.5 million dollar approved ARC grant, totaling about 13 million dollars. Proposed maps of the area to possibly get broadband under the Reconnect Grant can be found on the council’s website -www.pocahontascountybroadband.com. Smarr added that letters of support from local businesses for the reconnect grant application would be helpful.
Holstine said that FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund or RDOF has still not officially awarded the large area of Pocahontas County that Frontier Communications had bid on, and that is a good thing. He explained that if the county is awarded the Reconnect grant before Frontier’s areas are awarded to them, then we can build Reconnect broadband in those Frontier areas, but if the FCC awards Frontier the areas it bid before our Reconnect Grant is approved, those areas of the county will be reserved for Frontier and must be excluded from our Reconnect project. He said there is also a chance that Frontier’s RDOF area bids might be denied by the FCC because Frontier might not be ready to install broadband in those areas for many years, which would also allow those areas to be built under our Reconnect Grant.
It was announced that under the new permanent state Affordable connectivity Program, which is replacing the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, qualifying families can receive $30.00 a month reduction on their broadband bill. Under the old temporary program, they received $50.00 per month reduction on their bill. Families already under the old program will continue to get the $50.00 a month through March then will receive $30.00 a month under the new program. New people signing up will get the $30.00 a month benefit.
Senator Capito’s Office is asking WV residents to share their broadband access and connectivity nightmares with her by going to www.capito.senate.gov/shareyourstories.