A top West Virginia technology executive attended the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on Tuesday morning to talk about a project that could improve broadband Internet service at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Jim Martin, CEO of Citynet, Inc., told the commission about a proposed microwave link, that would boost Internet speeds across the mountain community. Citynet is a telecommunications company based in Bridgeport.
Commissioner David Fleming described the purpose of Martin’s visit.
“Snowshoe and Citynet are looking at a proposal, in front of the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council, to improve broadband Internet at Snowshoe,” he said. “I very much would like to support that proposal. It’s important for our Internet. I definitely want to hear about what this proposal is and how it’s going to help Snowshoe and its visitors get better Internet.”
Snowshoe Mountain CEO Frank DeBerry said Frontier Communications, the largest Internet provider in Pocahontas County, was unwilling or unable to improve service.
“Last year, at about this time, I sat down with an executive from Frontier,” he said. “I expressed that it was important to realize that the level of service that we have at the resort is so bad, that we’re highly, highly motivated to try to find some sort of alternative. As you know, Internet is not a regulated utility. In that situation, when the one carrier you have isn’t able to deliver the service, the only real option to improve is competition. We have actively sought ways to facilitate competition coming into the area for quite some time.”
DeBerry said poor Internet service is the most common complaint from Snowshoe visitors.
“I think the entire county is at a huge disadvantage by not being provided with adequate broadband services, from an education standpoint and from an economic development standpoint,” he said. “Forty-three percent of our guests who come onto the mountain, tell us that their number one complaint is the lack of availability of Internet service.”
A Snowshoe homeowner set up a dinner date with DeBerry and Martin, when the CEOs discussed alternative Internet service for the resort. Martin said the plan involves a microwave link between Bridgeport and Snowshoe.
“Our proposal, which we submitted to the West Virginia Broadband Council – we submitted for a $700,000 grant request,” he said. “That grant request is to secure microwave radio equipment, that we could use to shoot signal from our headquarters over in Bridgeport to the top of Snowshoe Mountain. By that link, we would take advantage of some of the infrastructure that Snowshoe has and deploy broadband to every unit and every business on top of the mountain, including Silver Creek, and get to as many potential users at the base of the mountain. We felt that that was the quickest way and easiest way for us to try to get some broadband into the county.”
Martin, a member of the Broadband Deployment Council, thinks the prospects are good to get the grant money – although he would have to recuse himself from any vote on the project.
“I believe we have a very good project and I think we’ll be at the top, and I think there’s a good chance that it will be funded,” he said.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory Business Manager Mike Holstine said the facility was prepared to assist with federal permitting for the microwave link.
“Mr. Martin is already aware that microwave towers will have an FCC [Federal Communications Commission] application,” he said. “We are more than happy to work with him to ensure that they can be installed in a manner that does not contradict FCC requirements and federal and state laws. We are fully supportive.”
Holstine offered the NRAO as a site for public forums to discuss Internet issues, which Martin had recommended.
Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Steve Weir told the commission that broadband Internet is vital for the county’s future – especially education.
“The cornerstone of any economic development program is education,” he said. “The more you can do to educate your population, of all ages – you really have to really take that into consideration. If there is a way to help educate the people in your community, I think that’s an obligation you have to pursue. Nothing will pay off greater than education for your people.”
The commission voted 3-0 to support a letter to the Broadband Deployment Council in support of Citynet’s proposed project and grant application.
The commission heard public comments about proposed courthouse security upgrades. Norman Alderman, of Beaver Creek, and John Leyzorek, of Marlinton, spoke against the proposed security upgrades. See next week’s edition for more coverage of this issue.
In other business, the commission:
– Accepted a bid for $9,000 from Garber Concrete Work for floor repairs at the county animal shelter in the Hanover Building.
– Rejected two bids for interior repairs at the Hanover Building. The commission will re-advertise for bids for repair of floors and specified electrical issues in the building.
– Appointed Jeff Barlow to the Civil Service Board.
– Accepted a bid for $22,909 for a disaster response trailer. The cost will be covered by a Homeland Security grant.
– Approved working on a plan to allow Pocahontas County archery teams to practice in the Hanover Building.
– Approved a letter to allow the Convention and Visitors Bureau to obtain a line of credit.
For more on Tuesday’s county commission meeting, including more on Citynet’s proposed Internet project, see next week’s edition.