The June 8 Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting opened with a discussion of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) funding. Amy Truesdale of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC) said that there have been about 305 BEAD Survey responses received in the Region 4 Planning and Development Council counties – Nicholas, Fayette, Greenbrier, Webster and Pocahontas – but it is not possible to be able to determine how many of those were sent in from Pocahontas County. Mike Holstine said that only a thousand or so responses were received in the entire state.
Holstine added that BEAD is coming out with a new survey, and the council voted to partner with them to help them distribute the survey. Holstine added, however, this should not be a high priority since the BEAD funding is unlikely to be of much or any help to bring broadband into this county, because the Rural Development Opportunity Funding (RDOF) awarded areas of the county (which cover the majority of the county) have been deemed off-limits to BEAD or any other federal broadband funding.
He suggested that one way BEAD might help is with BEAD’s Community Anchor Program. That program provides broadband to critical institutions in the county, such as the hospital, EMS facilities and fire stations. The suggestion was made to see if they can influence BEAD to add additional institutions such as food banks, medical clinics and senior centers to their list of Community Anchor Institutions, because broadband service to those institutions will also bring broadband to the areas surrounding them. These might be exceptions to the RDOF restrictions.
Regarding those RDOF restrictions, Holstine said Frontier’s obligation to build in their reserved areas was only to provide – within eight years – broadband service to a total of 175,000 customer locations state-wide. So, even though Frontier bid on and won RDOF control over most of Pocahontas County, it is possible that few if any of those 175,000 will be located in the county.
Brian Tew of Thompson and Litton suggested the council try to find out from Frontier how many of those 175,000 customers will be in Pocahontas County. He said Frontier has to have developed a plan which would contain that information. Holstine, however, doubted Frontier will provide that information, and the council might have to wait the full eight years to find out what areas of the county will be freed up from RDOF because Frontier decided not to provide service to them.
Another suggestion was made to seek additional Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Power Grants, since these are not federal funding so they might be allowed in RDOF reserved areas. Council might be able to convince ARC to concentrate their money into those RDOF reserved areas. According to Holstine, the group should get in touch with ARC about future Power Grants and ask when they will be announcing them. Sarah Riley said we will set up a meeting with our ARC contacts about this.
As far as the current ARC Grant Project, the broadband council is still waiting to complete the pole agreement with Frontier, but the agreement with Mon Power has been completed.