Melissa O’Brien of the Roane County Broadband Enhancement Council met with the Pocahontas County Broadband Council at its February 22 meeting. O’Brien said she has developed contacts with some of the new management at Frontier Communications, and they are eager to change Frontier’s bad reputation. She said those managers as well as Frontier engineers are willing to come to a Broadband Council meeting, but would probably need more than an hour to talk with the council and respond to questions and concerns.
It was suggested that an in-person meeting would be better than meeting virtually.
O’Brien also suggested that Pocahontas County retain some level of ownership over any future broadband infrastructure in the county for at least 10 years. Roane County plans to do that and it is being strongly considered by Greenbrier County.
John Tuggle agreed, saying that the timeline to use the Roane and Greenbrier ownership models will work well for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Grant’s broadband project. He suggested council consider using the same law firm as Roane and Greenbrier to negotiate the ownership issues as that firm would already be familiar with the issues.
Regarding the status of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Grant, there is no new information available, in fact it was described as a “blackhole mystery” as to when application information for that grant might become available.
Regarding the approved ARC Grant, it was reported that the environmental studies are being completed. Preliminary fieldwork to exa- mine possible routes and existing poles will be on going for the next several weeks. Plans are also being considered to hold a Town Hall with Citynet, which might be combined with a groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting event to occur later in the year. Cara Rose suggested these events take place in the northern, central and southern areas of the county, while Riley suggested that they be “ARC Kickoff Events” rather than tied to groundbreaking or ribbon cutting. Everyone agreed that, because the public has grown skeptical of broadband ever coming here, some kind of splashy community event is needed.
Regarding the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), Tuggle said the FCC has awarded Citynet its RDOF areas in the county, but so far Frontier has not been awarded their areas. Allen Johnson said that it would not be acceptable to have to wait six or seven years for Frontier to get around to building broadband in its RDOF areas.
Regarding the application for the Reconnect Round 3 Grant, Amanda Smarr said it is due March 8 and will be submitted on time.
Riley said that not having reliable high-speed internet makes it difficult for businesses to convince new employees to move to the county and hard to retain existing employees.