At the May 12 Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Mike Holstine suggested a number of talking points to use when communicating with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about Frontier’s pending RDOF bids to provide broadband to most of the populated areas in the county. Those talking points include:
• Since most of the county appears to be on the verge of being awarded to Frontier Communications by the FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF,) this could eliminate or greatly reduce other grant opportunities to provide broadband here.
• Frontier would potentially not provide broadband service here until six years after beginning construction of their broadband infrastructure, since RDOF only requires them to build 40 percent of their infrastructure during the first three years, and then adding only an additional 20 percent per year over the next three years.
• It is feared that Frontier could also charge their customers an installation fee of up to several hundred dollars to actually hook up homes and businesses to their broadband system. Most Internet Providers do not charge installation fees.
• The FCC should not allow Frontier to lock us out from obtaining other grant broadband opportunities in Frontier’s RDOF areas.
Holstine said he has a connection to ensure those talking points will get to the ear of the FCC Chairperson. He also said he has heard from a member of Senator Mansion’s office that the U.S. Secretary of Commerce has said that until Frontier is operational in their RDOF area, customers in the area should still have the option to receive their broadband service from other grants and ISPs.
Regarding the proposed meeting with Frontier, Sarah Riley said Frontier refuses to meet with the council in a forum that is open to the public. She said the only other option that would not violate the WV Open Meetings Act, would be for the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation to host the meeting with Frontier with a few selected members of the Broadband Council and Region Four also attending. Those people will report back to the council about what transpired at the meeting.
Holstine also pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission has taken action against Frontier in California because they lied to consumers about the slow speed of their DSL Internet service. The FTC will prohibit Frontier from “tricking” their customers about the speed of the service they provide. This FTC action occurred as a result of a successful class action lawsuit, which West Virginia declined to join.
Region Four’s Amanda Smarr reported that the environmental studies are still finishing up on the ARC Grant Project, and Holstine added that 70 percent of the field engineering is complete and construction on the project should begin by the last quarter of 2022.
Holstine said CityNet is continuing to run its fiber trunk lines south along U.S. 219 from Elkins to Lewisburg and once completed, will be able to provide service within a thousand feet of that line through Pocahontas County.
Smarr said that if the NTIA and the Reconnect 3 grants are eventually approved, together they would provide broadband connections to most of the county’s residences and businesses. The Reconnect application has been submitted and is being reviewed, while they are still waiting for the new NTIA grant application dates to be announced.
It was agreed that the county commission needs to receive several updates a year from the council to avoid misunderstandings about broadband.
Holstine said he and some of the commission met with members of the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) sensitive community at the May 11 “Safe Homes” meeting. He said he explained to them that wired hookups to fiber-optic broadband do not create an EMP threat to them, since light, not electrical pulses, travel through fiber-optic cables. They would just not be able to use wireless routers in their houses. If they want EMP free Internet access, they can use wired connections.
The council ended the meeting by observing a moment of silence for Joe Walker, who passed away Wednesday. He had been elected to the Pocahontas County Board of Education in Tuesday’s election.