At the July 14 Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Ruthanna Beezley updated the council about a meeting held June 9 between members of the council and two representatives of Frontier Communications, one of whom was Conrad Lucas, who is a lobbyist for Frontier. The Frontier representatives assured them that Frontier has now successfully completed its bankruptcy and has restructured itself with new management and even a new logo, saying that this is now a “new Frontier.”
As far as Frontier’s timeline to provide broadband to the large areas of Pocahontas County that they were awarded by the FCC as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF,) the Frontier representatives said they plan to begin construction in 2025 and hope to complete their project in 2027. They said, when completed, customers will pay about $60 per month and will receive 1 GB per second service. They also provided what they say is a reliable contact at Frontier for complaints about their service.
The council said it will use its website to inform the public how to reach out to Frontier when they are experiencing problems with their Internet service, and will funnel unresolved issues to the contact Frontier provided at that meeting.
The Broadband Council’s website is www.pocahontascountybroadband.com
The Broadband Council members at the meeting told Frontier that the timeline proposing RDOF broadband service in the county is unacceptably too long. They also updated Frontier on the council’s plans to expand broadband across the county through other grants and programs.
They informed Frontier that distrust of the company is widespread among the citizens of Pocahontas County, but they hope to maintain a working relationship with Frontier, Beezley, who attended the Zoom meeting said, in the end, Frontier learned as much from us as we did from them. John Golden reminded everyone who has Frontier copper Internet connections to keep complaining to Frontier about that.
Other matters discussed at the meeting were:
Melissa O’Brien and Cory Nipper from Thompson and Litton, the Engineering-Architecture firm working with the Broadband Council, announced that they are working with the Internet Service Provider (ISP) City Net and hope to be able to begin construction of the ARC Broadband Project this fall. They are also working with City Net’s attorneys to attempt to have the county retain ownership of at least a few of the fiber optic lines installed as part to that project, and hope to know more about that in a couple of weeks.
Amanda Smarr, of Region 4, added that they received three bids from law firms in response to the county’s request for proposals (RFP), and they will turn those bids over to the county commission for consideration. Commissioner Jesse Groseclose said he would recommend the commission allow the Broadband Council to appoint a three-person committee to interview those firms and make a recommendation to the commission.
Regarding the county’s submitted application for the NTIA broadband grant, Mike Holstine said that Mingo County was awarded a $13-million NTIA (National Telecommunications Agency), and Smarr believes this may mean that Pocahontas County’s application was not accepted, but they have not been told that by NTIA. Smarr said there is another round of that grant which needs to be applied for in September.
There is also another pending grant application – the third round of the USDA’s Reconnect Grant. Holstine said he has been in touch with Senator Manchin’s Office, urging them to help speed up any approval of that grant before the RDOF areas are officially granted to Frontier. Holstine said the local USDA has little influence over the awarding of that grant, since the USDA administration in Washington is making all those decisions.
Holstine also said the council has sent a letter of support for the Wireless Internet program (WIN Program) in which U.S. Cellular is proposing placing three towers in the Watoga/Droop area to provide both cellular service and wireless Internet service to Watoga State Park and surrounding areas, which includes Beaver Creek and Droop.
The Pocahontas County Broadband Summit is scheduled for Thursday, September 15, at the Marlinton Municipal Building, and everyone is invited to attend – in person or via Zoom Meeting.