Jenna Miller, CEO of the Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks Telephone Company (SKSRT), addressed the Pocahontas County Broadband Council at its November 9 meeting. Miller said SKSRT is applying for the third round of the “Line Extension Advancement and Development” (LEAD) grant program, which will expand broadband service to 145 addresses in three locations in the northern part of the county. Those areas are:
1. The North Fork Loop
2. Lower Murphy Road
3. Powder Horn Lane
Miller said the total amount of money the LEAD grant will pay to provide the broadband service to these 145 addresses is $550,650, but the local match is based on $500 per address, or $72,500. Miller asked for the Broadband Council’s support when they ask the Pocahontas County Commission to provide the local match funds at a special commission meeting set for November 15.
Ruthana Beasley said, since Broadband Council’s primary mission is to bring broadband service to as many county residents as possible, they will join with SKSRT and recommend the commission provide the local matching funds. The reason for the rush to secure the local match is that the LEAD Grant application is due two days later on Friday, November 17. Commissioner John Rebinski, who is also a member of the Broadband Council, said the commission has already set aside money to help fund local matches for broadband grants.
Cory Nipper, with the Thompson and Litton Company (T&L), provided an update on the ARC Power Grant Broadband Project. He said all of the requests to use poles have been submitted to First Energy and now that company has to make their poles ready to receive the project’s fiber. He added that an agreement has not yet been reached with Frontier to connect to their 38 poles which are needed for the project.
Concerns were expressed that First Energy has delayed other broadband projects across the state by using their “Make Ready” program as an excuse to have the broadband companies spend their grant money to repair or replace First Energy’s older poles that have not been maintained by the company.
Mike Holstine said the West Virginia State Broadband Enhancement Council and the West Virginia Public Service Commission have been addressing this issue with First Energy, and hopefully it will be resolved before the county’s project reaches that stage. Just in case, it was recommended the the Council send First Energy, the State Broadband Council and the PSC letters advising them that they are aware that this has been happening in other projects, and ask that they not to let it happen with this ARC project.
Nipper sent out a revised timeline for the ARC Broadband Project which you can view with this story at alleghenymountainradio.org
Basically, it says actual construction should start July 25, 2024 and be complete by January 15, 2025.
Regarding the BEAD Grant, the Broadband Council’s application will be submitted by the closing date, November 20. It was pointed out that the government’s BEAD document incorrectly said Pocahontas County did not hold any required public meetings. Amanda Smarr said she is correcting this with the BEAD officials.
Rebinski, upset with Frontier’s apparent lack of progress building broadband in their Pocahontas County RDOF areas, said that Frontier uses the rural status of counties such as Pocahontas to get federal rural broadband funding, but then they spend it building broadband in more populated (and more profitable for them) counties.
Holstine said Frontier never addressed the county commission’s letter asking for a progress report on Frontier’s RDOF project in Pocahontas County, and asked for another letter to be sent to them about this.
Holstine also recommended people read the ROC Broadband Study Report on the council’s website because “it is the most seminal report on the state of broadband in West Virginia.” It also predicts that it will take an additional $30 million to adequately cover the entire state with proper broadband.