ABC News takes interest in county’s Rural Broadband

Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

During the June 9 Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Sarah Riley announced that she has been contacted by ABC News concerning a possible interview and story about the efforts to get rural broadband here in Pocahontas County. The story would be a part of a rural broadband ABC News Special Report. Riley said the reporter might be here in late June.

In addition, Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton told the Council that he was contacted by a Baltimore-based company that has been here investigating the local broadband situation.

In an ironic twist, Riley was forced several times to turn over the chairing of the meeting to Ruthana Beezley because her broadband connection to the Zoom meeting failed.

Felton reported that the Engineering Bid Review Committee needs more time to score the companies who submitted bids to the county commission to serve as the engineering company for the county’s application for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Power Grant.

A discussion was held about the collection of broadband speed data from areas across the county.

Jim Martin from CityNet has approached the Broadband Council, offering new software tools CityNet has developed to streamline collection of speed data from different areas. Martin wants to present these at a future Broadband Council meeting.

Amanda Smarr from the Region 4 Planning and Development Council said survey data needs to be cleaned up so it can also be collected using social media platforms.

Keli Radcliff offered to create a simple website for the survey.

Riley asked Ruth Bland from the Board of Education to provide the board’s survey data listing the students’ internet speeds.

Emergency Management Director Michael O’Brien suggested reaching out to Frontier to try and obtain their data on their actual broadband speeds in different areas of the county. Some expressed doubts that Frontier would cooperate, but agreed it is worth the effort to try. Riley suggested also reaching out to CityNet and to the Spruce Knob – Seneca Rocks Telephone for their speed data.

O’Brien said that Frontier has been busy installing some fiber lines in the northern end of the county, and John Tuggle said the Region 4 Planning and Development Council has been receiving a lot of pressure to give Frontier another year to improve their broadband service, but O’Brien said the best Frontier could possibly do is provide 18 mb service. O’Brien was appointed to contact Frontier.

Mike Holstine has sent letters to the county commission and the three municipalities in the county asking them to reserve 30% of eligible COVID-19 relief funds for broadband expansion. Felton said Marlinton Town Council has already agreed to reserve 25% of its funds for broadband.

It was suggested that at a future meeting, a model be discussed whereby the County Commission would borrow money and work directly with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) outside of state or federal grants or programs to bring broadband to the entire county.

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