Broadband a hot topic at commission

Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

The Pocahontas County Commission established a county Broadband Council at its January 19 meeting.

Members of the council are: Jesse Groseclose, Commissioner; Michael Holstine, Secretary, WV Broadband Council and Business Manager of Green Bank Observatory; Sarah Riley, High Rocks Executive Director; John Tuggle, Region IV; Sam Felton, Marlinton Mayor and Chair ROC; Amy Truesdale, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development; Ruth Bland, Pocahontas County Schools; Cara Rose, Executive Director Convention and Visitors Bureau; Ruthana Mc- Neel Beezley, Economic Development Consultant; Pete Monico, First Tracts Real Estate; Sarah Guyette, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Snowshoe; Terrell McSweeny, Partner Covington Law Firm, former Federal Trade Commissioner and Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Biden.

The Broadband Council was created in an effort to overcome the disappointing progress in the county’s efforts to obtain a Federal Broadband Implementation Grant.

Groseclose explained that interest had been expressed by those who were named to the committee.

Holstine addressed the commission, telling them that the committee will attempt to obtain other grants and explore other opportunities to secure badly needed high speed internet service for the entire county.

The commission also voted to authorize a payment of $8,300 from their approved $75,000 Broadband Study Grant to pay their engineer.

Later in the meeting, Tuggle, of the Region IV Planning and Development Council, updated the commission on the status of that Broadband Study Grant. Tuggle said that $63,000 still remains available in the study grant.

He also said, while they have not yet seen the approval of federal grants the county applied for, the remaining Study Grant funds can be used by the new Broadband Council to explore other grants and opportunities.

Tuggle was asked why Frontier Communications, a company with a very bad reputation for providing broadband, was approved by the Federal Government to provide broadband to West Virginia. Tuggle said Frontier owns the poles which are already in place that can be used to string high-speed fiber-optic lines, which is an advantage they hold over possible competitors.

Because broadband is not regulated by the government, it cannot force Frontier to allow other com- panies to use their poles.

Additionally, the commission questioned the discrepancies in ridership on the Mountain Transit Authority (MTA). The MTA’s annual report on ridership indicated a total of 1,154 fares in the county, with only 12 of those being senior citizens, while the number of seniors riding in other counties served by the MTA was many times higher.

MTA General Manager Tim Thomas, called in and explained that when the MTA began service in Pocahontas County, they agreed to not compete with Pocahontas Senior Citizens which was providing rides for a large number of seniors here. But there is no such agreement in the other counties. Thomas added that ridership in Pocahontas County is increasing at the third fastest rate in the MTA, and this is despite the pandemic, which leaves him optimistic about the future of the MTA in the county.

The commissioners also approved the 2021 Hotel Occupancy Tax allotment percentages without any changes from the 2020 percentages, except they did not repeat the one $5,000 allotment approved in 2020 for the Historic Landmarks Commission, which was used to replace a furnace in the Opera House.

The commission also:

• received an annual update from the Artisans Co-op.

• approved the hiring of John D. Nottingham as a full-time law enforcement deputy, effective February, 1, 2021. Nottingham has been employed as a Sergeant in the Fayetteville Police Department.

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