Pocahontas Broadband Council Seeking Funding for Expanded County Internet Access
At its latest Zoom Meeting on May 12th, the Pocahontas County Broadband Council continued to seek funds to expand the broadband coverage areas of the county. John Tuggle of the Region 4 Planning and Development Council said the application for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Power Grant has been submitted and he feels it stands a good chance of being approved.
Tuggle further explained that the ARC Grant will only cover a portion of the coverage areas that the denied USDA Reconnect Grant would have covered. He said that USDA Reconnect Grant would have built broadband coverage all the way up Route 28 to Durbin, while the ARC Grant if approved will only provide enough funding to install broadband up to Dunmore. He said the challenge is to find the additional funding to make up that diminished coverage, then to eventually find other funding or grants to build it out to other parts of the county.
Tuggle suggested that with the County Commission’s support, Region 4 can ask Senator Joe Mansion to try and provide the county with 1.5 Million dollars in Congressional Ear-Mark money. As a result, the Council voted to recommend to the County Commission that they support efforts to have Senator Manchin try to provide 1.5 million dollars -which is the maximum amount for ear marks – to the county for broadband expansion.
Tuggle said this ear-mark money could be used as a match for other grants making it easier to obtain new grants. He also suggested that it might be time for the county to consider self-funding projects by borrowing money from banks to expand broadband. Tuggle said that there is no real risk to the county in doing this since the selected Internet Service Provider (ISP) would provide the money to the county to repay the bank once the service is operational for customers.
Sara Riley agreed that since grants have not been very successful in funding broadband in the county over the past twenty years, perhaps it is time to look at self-funding by the county.
The Broadband Council also passed a motion to ask the Region 4 Planning and Development Council to help develop a scenario for a public-private partnership to bring broadband service to the county.
Additionally, Tuggle suggested that the County Commission designate one person to become a GIS expert for the Broadband Council.
Amanda Smarr of Region 4 said that there is money left in the original Broadband Study Grant for the consultants – Thompson and Linton Company (T & L) – to prioritize new areas of the county according to their broadband need and to develop plans to enable the Broadband Council to submit implementation projects to obtain funding for those areas. Some areas of the county, such as Snowshoe and the parts of the upper county that are serviced by the Spruce Knobs–Seneca Rocks Telephone Company, already have fast broadband service.
Since time ran out before getting to a lot of what had been on the agenda for this meeting, it was decided to carry over the unfinished portions of the agenda to the next Broadband Council meeting on May 26th, which will include a discussion of the needs of different areas of the county for broadband and how to best utilize the volunteers who have offered their help to the broadband effort.