“Proposed ‘RDOF’ Areas Are How Frontier Holds Pocahontas County Hostage”
At the July 8th Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting a discussion was held about the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proposed areas in Pocahontas County. RDOF is awarding Frontier Communications, as the exclusive internet Service Provider (ISP) to vast areas of Pocahontas County. Mike Holstine explained that this proposed RDOF award to Frontier is “how Frontier is holding us hostage.”
Holstine explained that the any area of the county that is awarded by RDOF to Frontier -which is a big chunk of the county- is ineligible for other government grants or for American Rescue Plan broadband funding, yet under the RDOF rules, Frontier is not required to provide fast broadband to its designated areas until at least 2027. Holstine said that we are also restricted from providing high speed broadband to some areas of Cass, Green Bank, and Bartow because those areas belong to the Spruce Knobs-Seneca Rocks Telephone Company. We cannot get funds for those areas even if some of the people there are either not offered the service, choose not to subscribe, or subscribe to the service at a less expensive speed under 25 megabytes per second.
Holstine said that there has not yet been a response to the Council’s application to the Appalachian Regional Commission’s broadband “Power Grant.”
He said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) grant application will be submitted in August, and a request for supporting funds for that grant needs to be sent to the County Commission now. Holstein added that since RDOF builds won’t happen until 2027 and the ARC Grant build doesn’t have to be done until 2024, we must do whatever additional buildouts we can in the meantime, and we should push for as large of an NTIA grant as we can afford. Craig Murphy pointed out that the NTIA grants can range from five million dollars up to thirty million dollars in size.
Murphy also displayed a map of proposed priority broadband projects in the county, which would cost five million dollars and provide service to 68 miles of the county, to include seven-hundred connections to service about 1100 customers Murphy said that health-care sites should be prioritized for faster broadband.
Amanda Smarr said that the WV Broadband Enhancement Council is redoing their broadband maps of the entire state, which will be to determine which areas will get higher American Rescue Plan broadband funding. Smarr expressed concerns that preliminary map does not reflect the accurate broadband speeds for much of Pocahontas County, instead over-estimating the actual available broadband speeds in the county. That will lower the priority for the county to get broadband funding.
Mike Holstine said it is important to try and get the WV Broadband Enhancement Council to correct its current speed maps, which incorrectly indicate that a lot of Pocahontas County is already being adequately served with fast broadband. He said the Enhancement Council will open for public comments soon, which will provide an excellent opportunity to send them our accurate internet speed maps.
Also discussed at the meeting:
- The committee has scored the engineering firm bids for the ARC Grant and will send the top two to the County Commission for their final decision.
- It was decided to put out the Broadband Council Website now and later add additional content beyond just the speed test survey that’s there now. Those could include information and training for volunteers as well as speed maps and data.
- To consider having municipal governments include broadband information with their utility bills.
- Development of a generic Broadband Council email address.
- Sending out accurate broadband speed maps of the county to our congressional representatives.