Pocahontas Broadband Council to Evaluate Bids for Broadband Consulting Services
During the April 28th Pocahontas Broadband Council meeting, the members voted to create a consultant review committee. This committee will evaluate submitted proposals of consulting companies seeking to serve as the county’s consultants for the recently submitted Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) broadband implementation grant. The County Commission recently opened seven sealed proposals and forwarded them to the Broadband Council to evaluate and recommend one of them. Mike Holstein, Sam Felton and Commissioner Jesse Groseclose were appointed to that review committee.
Holstein and Felton said they were satisfied with work done by Thompson & Litton, Inc. (T&L,) who served as the consulting firm for last year’s USDA Broadband Technical Assistance Grant so the evaluation of all the submitted proposals might not be necessary. However, Amanda Smarr of the Region 4 Planning and Development Council said it is necessary to review each submitted proposal since T&L had been the consultant on a different king of grant – a technical assistance grant, but this is an Implementation Grant.
Council Chairperson, Sarah Riley said the next step regarding the ARC Grant will be to select the Internet Service Provided (ISP) to be used if the grant is approved. There are at least three ISP candidates: City Net, Frontier and Segra which will need to be evaluated.
Sarah Riley said the Broadband Council needs to request that the County Commission set up a specific line-item in the county budget to fund the Broadband Council.
Amanda Smarr said there is a possibility that a portion of any additional COVID relief funds received by the county might be able to be used for broadband, but she is not yet positive that it will be allowed for that. Smarr said that it is possible that even if COVID relief money is allowed to be used for broadband, the Federal government might still prohibit its use as local match funding for other federal grants.
The council passed a motion to request Region 4 to send a letter to the three county municipalities and to the County Commission recommending they allocate thirty to forty percent of any COVID relief money they receive to broadband expansion in their jurisdictions.
Regarding last years USDA broadband grant application, Amy Truesdale announced that they received a letter from the USDA a week ago officially denying the county’s application. Holstein said he does not recommend applying to the USDA for that grant again next year even if the USDA offers it again.
Truesdale also said that obtaining local matching funds for additional broadband grants may become a problem for the county, since to put up local matching funds for future grants may require the commission to borrow quite a lot of money from banks. She said the ideal solution would be for the State of West Virginia to fund those matches on behalf of the counties. Mike Holstein said that the State Legislature may be favorable to passing legislation to do that.
It was announced that one-hundred and twenty people completed the internet speed data collection survey with 53.1% of the respondents saying they are not getting the internet speeds they pay for, and many said they get 1.5 megabytes per second (mbs) or less in speed.
It was suggested that survey responses received from areas served by broadband service at Snowshoe or provided by the Spruce Knob/Senecca Rocks Telephone Company not be factored in the survey since those areas already have good broadband. Mike O’Brien added that just about everyone in the county has bad upload internet speed.
Sarah Riley said the survey responses also provided the Broadband Council with one hundred names of potential willing volunteers to help the Council’s efforts.
The next Broadband Council meeting will be on Wednesday, May 12th at 11:00 am via Zoom Meeting.