The Pocahontas County Broadband Council received status reports on three broadband grants at its February 10 meeting. The already approved Appalachian Regional Commission’s Power Grant (ARC); the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s broadband grant, (NTIA); and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Broadband Reconnect Round 3 Grant, referred to as the Reconnect Grant.
The $2.5 million ARC Grant was awarded to the county last fall. Amanda Smarr, of Region 4, explained that Citynet has been selected as the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for that grant. Smarr said that once the environmental study is completed and approved by the state, actual construction can begin. Mike Holstine said Citynet would like to do a Town Hall about the ARC Project, but suggested this be scheduled several months down the road in conjunction with the actual groundbreaking of the project.
No one had any information of the NTIA’s national broadband program except that $46 million has been reserved for West Virginia.
Region 4 and City Net are finishing the application for the Reconnect grant. That application must be submitted March 9 by noon. John Tuggle, of Region 4, said the team putting that application together is “ahead of schedule.” The Reconnect grant, if approved, has the potential to provide broadband service to a large part of Pocahontas County. Smarr said that the amount from the USDA Rural Development’s Reconnect Grant would be about $10.8 million and the local match can be the $2.5 million approved in the ARC grant, for a total of about $13 million. Proposed maps of the area to possibly get broadband under the Reconnect Grant can be found on the council’s website – pocahontascountybroadband.com
Smarr added that letters of support from local businesses for the reconnect grant application would be helpful.
Holstine said that FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund or RDOF has still not officially awarded the large area of Pocahontas County that Frontier Communications had bid on, and that is a good thing. He explained that if the county is awarded the Reconnect grant before Frontier’s bid areas are awarded to them, then the county can build Reconnect broadband in those Frontier areas, but if the FCC awards Frontier the areas it bid before the Reconnect Grant is approved, those areas of the county will be reserved for Frontier and must be excluded from the Reconnect project. He said there is also a chance that Frontier’s RDOF area bids might be denied by the FCC because Frontier might not be ready to install broadband in those areas for many years, which would also allow those areas to be built under the council’s Reconnect Grant.
It was announced that under the new permanent state Affordable Connectivity Program, which is replacing the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, qualifying families can receive $30 a month reduction on their broadband bill. Under the old temporary program, they received a reduction of $50 per month. Families already under the old program will continue to get the $50 a month through March then will receive $30 a month under the new program. New people signing up will get the $30 a month benefit.
Senator Shelley Moore-Capito’s office is asking West Virginia residents to share their broadband access and connectivity nightmares with her by going to capito.senate.gov/shareyourstories