State Appears to Back Off on its Commitment to Rural Broadband in WV
In a stunning announcement at the very end of the May 25th Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Mike Holstine said the legislature passed, and the Governor signed legislation that removed the two rural representatives from the State Broadband Council, and replaced them with two members who represent urban areas. Holstine said that although he was the current Vice-Chairman of that body, he was one of the two representatives removed from the State Broadband Council. He said this action by the state “came out of the blue,” and he is still trying to find out why rural representation was removed. Ruthana Beasley commented that “this is disheartening, and we should express our upset over this to our politicians.”
In other actions during this relatively short meeting, the council members added a correction to their last meeting’s minutes. Because those minutes seemed to blame the delay with the ARC Broadband Project’s pole agreements on Mon Power, the council clarified those minutes to spread part of the blame for these delays to the county.
Cory Nipper from T&L said that the addendum to that agreement has been approved by the County Commission, and the full agreement will be signed by the commissioners.
The agreement revisions with Frontier Communications over the use of their poles are still pending, according to Amanda Smarr of Region 4. She said they have received no feedback from Frontier about those revisions.
Nipper said the delays involving the pole agreements have delayed the projected timeline of the project, with construction now scheduled to begin in June of 2024, instead of the previous date of April 3rd, 2024.
Regarding applying for Community Connect grants, Brian Tew said CityNet has not yet provided areas in the county to apply for under that grant which are acceptable to them.
With the June 20th deadline for applying for Community Connect Grants fast approaching, Beezley said we appear to be at a standstill with that grant.
Both Smarr and Holstine said that because the government has declared that Frontier’s RDOF areas are off limits to any other broadband projects which will use federal funds, potential areas of the county in which broadband projects under the Community Connect grant are very limited, so any areas that remain available will likely bump into the Seneca Rocks Spruce Knob broadband areas, and we have not yet had a conversation with that company about this.
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) broadband funding still depends on conducting the required public meetings. The first attempted public meeting on April 27th with “under-represented people” did not draw any public attendees.
Beezley said the council still needs to create a letter for the County Commission to send to the holders of RDOF areas in the county asking for those companies to provide progress reports about their broadband projects in their areas.