Pocahontas Broadband Council Sets Two Priorities
The Pocahontas County Broadband Council, while cautiously optimistic, awaits a decision on approval of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) Broadband Power Grant, but is moving forward with other funding possibilities. At their July 22nd meeting, Sarah Riley said the current two top priorities, not necessarily in priority order, for the Council are:
- Submitting correct broadband data, the Council has collected to the WV Broadband Council to attempt to correct their incorrect speed data map of Pocahontas County.
- Pushing forward with the application for the Broadband Grant from the United States Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA.)
Regarding the submission of data to the WV Broadband Council, it was pointed out that the WV Broadband Council is currently open for comments, but only from Internet Service Providers, Regional Planning and Development Councils and organizations such as county Broadband Councils. There is no way for members of the public to add comments. Region 4 Planning and Development Council, which is a partner of the Pocahontas County Broadband Council, will be uploading accurate broadband speed data that has been collected by the county Broadband Council from specific areas of the county, to the WV Broadband Council.
It was pointed out during the meeting, that one of the biggest obstacles the county faces in receiving state broadband funding is that Frontier Communications has been awarded vast areas of the county by the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and those areas are unlikely to be eligible to receive state broadband funding, even though most of those areas are very under-served by broadband service, and Frontier may not get around to providing its RDOFF areas fast internet for many years, if ever. It was agreed that Region 4 should still submit broadband speed data from those areas because there is always a chance that Frontier could lose its RDOF areas in the future.
General Manager Robert Butler from the Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone Company has informed the council that they are out of funds to build new broadband connections to customers in their area of Northern Pocahontas County. There was a question raised about whether this could make those unserved areas in the Spruce Knob Seneca Telephone Company’s assigned RDOF areas “eligible” for state funding. The best answer anyone at the meeting could provide was “possibly.”
Regarding the NTIA Grant, the deadline for submitting the grant application is August 7th. Sarah Riley suggested that we should apply for at least 14 million dollars from that grant even though the RDOFF designated areas of the county are off limits for funding.
Keli Ratcliff from Thompson & Litton (T&L) told the council that they are working to develop a list of priority areas to be considered for broadband under the NTIA grant will include some of Frontier’s RDOF areas. Ratcliff said that if the county can offer a 10% local match it would increase the likelihood of getting their application approved.
Ruth Bland said the county schools telephoned the families of every enrolled student in June of 2020 and conducted their own internet speed survey. That survey, which was done for the Board of Education’s Emergency Broadband grant showed that 41 students had no broadband service at home and 473 had poor service. Bland can get that data to the Broadband Council. She said that that survey will likely be redone soon.
In other discussions at the meeting:
- It was announced that the County Commission has approved T&L to be the consultant for the ARC Grant and authorized them to spend remaining Study Grant funds to assist with the NTIA grant application.
- It was pointed out that T&L will also be working to assist the new Broadband Point of Contact at the Cumberland Industrial Park near where I-77 meets the Virginia/West Virginia border. This will bring a lot of high-speed broadband from Atlanta, Ga to West Virginia, which could benefit Pocahontas County.
- The Website is up and running -at https://pocahontascountybroadband.com
- Cara Rose said there may be another grant for broadband from an outdoor tourism source, and said that tourism should be included as additional justification in the NTIA application.
- It was agreed that the council should include social media, particularly Facebook as ways to reach the public.