Pocahontas County Broadband Council Faced an Important Decision
At their December 9th meeting, the Pocahontas County Broadband Council faced an Important decision about the future direction to take regarding the next broadband grant they should apply for.
Mike Holstine explained that there are two choices for their next grant application. One being the Round 3 Reconnect Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the other one being the WV American Rescue Plan Act – or ARPA- Gig-Ready Grant. The council is looking for a grant of about seven million dollars as its next grant to apply for. He said that either of these two grants -ARPA Gig-Ready and Reconnect Round 3 – could provide the seven million dollars to cover the very large project the Broadband Council has in mind for its next step in expanding broadband coverage to a big chunk of Pocahontas County. So the big question facing the Broadband Council at this meeting was: do we apply for the ARPA Gig-Ready Grant or apply for the Reconnect Round 3 Grant.
Much of the meeting was devoted to discussing the pros and cons of each of these 2 grant opportunities.
One of the main differences in the two is that the Gig-Ready Grant, which will be administered by the West Virginia Department of Economic Development in coordination with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and the State Broadband Office, would only allow the ISP two years to complete the project, a very tight schedule for an ISP such as Citynet to accomplish. On the other hand, Reconnect Round 3, which is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture would allow the ISP to complete the project within 5 years.
Sarah Riley pointed out that while it appears that the Reconnect Round 3’s timetable might be a lot more appealing to a local Internet Service Provider (ISP.) Holstine added that the criteria for being approved for the Reconnect grant is a lot tougher, as we saw when our original Reconnect Grant application was denied a year ago. Holstine said he felt good about the chances of being approved for Gig Ready.
Amy Truesdale of Region 4 added that the local match requirements for each of these two grants would be the same -25% of the 7-million-dollar grant -or about 1 million,750 thousand dollars. Close to 600 thousand dollars of that could be put up by using some American Rescue Plan money allocated to the County Commission and to the Town of Marlinton since both the county and the town have agreed to set aside a percentage of their ARP money for broadband.
Holstine added that additionally, if City Net is the ISP provider, that might be able to count as part of that local match, the money they will be spending anyhow to extend their fiber lines down US 219 through the county.
After these discussions, it was agreed that the smart thing would be to apply for both of these grants to fund the same project, but accept the one that is approved or accept the best one if both are approved.
Holstine also pointed out that a brand new Reconnect Round 3 map of the county has just been released. It shows the ARC approved grant areas, the existing Citynet built areas (mostly Snowshoe), the Reconnect areas, and the areas of the county awarded to Citynet by the FCC in the last Rural Digital Opportunity Fund bids (RDOf.) Holstine said that the FCC has not as of yet awarded any RDOF areas in the county to Frontier.