At the July 28 Pocahontas County Broadband Council meeting, Cory Nipper of Thompson and Litton, reported that the start-up on the construction of the broadband project, approved last fall, has been delayed from late 2022 until July 2024. He said this occurred due to delays by one of Thompson and Litton’s subcontractors. The project was approved under a Power Grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Council members expressed disappointment and concerns about this lengthy delay, especially since under the terms of the approved ARC Power Grant, the deadline for completion of the project is September of 2024. Completion of the project construction will be well beyond that deadline if construction doesn’t even begin until July 2024. However, Amanda Smarr with Region 4 said that an extension of that deadline date can be requested from the ARC.
Members were also concerned about how this delay should be presented at the Broadband Town Hall scheduled for September. One of the reasons for holding the Town Hall was to celebrate the upcoming construction. Mike Holstine said he wanted Thompson and Litton to address the new timeline for the project at the Town Hall meeting and answer any questions from the public about the timeline.
Region 4 executive director John Tuggle announced that Roane County and CityNet have signed a preliminary agreement on a plan for Roane County to retain ownership of a portion of the fiber lines in that county’s broadband project. That agreement will still need to be approved by legal counsel. Pocahontas County hopes to use the Roane County agreement as a model for it to retain ownership of part of any fiber lines constructed here as a result of any county-funded broadband project.
Members of the committee – Sam Felton, Ruthana Beezley and Jesse Groseclose – are planning a discussion before recommending a legal firm to the County Commission. Several firms have submitted bids to represent the county in regard to broadband legal matters.
As to other broadband grants or funding opportunities, it was announced that Reconnect Round 3 grant and loan announcements from the USDA have begun. There have been no new funding programs announced by the state at this time.
A discussion about Frontier was tabled until the next Council Meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, August 11, at 1 p.m.