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CityNet ups the ante with broadband at Snowshoe

At the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner last week, CityNet president and CEO Jim Martin spoke about the current and future projects CityNet is working on in Pocahontas county. CityNet is located in Bridgeport and offers Internet, phone and satellite services.

Martin, a native of Beverly, said he knows what it’s like to live in a rural area and that is one of the reasons he wants to focus on providing better broadband services in places like Pocahontas County.

During his talk, Martin provided samples of fiber optic cable to give individuals a chance to see what makes the Internet work.

“If you take a look at it, there’s twelve tubes that are in there,” Martin said. “The blue tube has been cut down and inside of it you can see what are called strands of fiber. What’s unique about that is each of those strands of fiber is actually a hollow tube. It’s an actual tube that is hollow and painted on the outside – that’s why you can see those. That’s all fiber optic is. This is what makes the Internet work.”

CityNet’s work in Pocahontas County began last Thanksgiving when Martin was contacted by Snowshoe Mountain Resort COO Frank DeBerry, who shared his concern about Internet speeds on the mountain.

On behalf of Snowshoe, Martin applied for and received a broadband expansion grant from the West Virginia Broadband Council.

“The project description was ‘Snowshoe Mountain is seeking a viable broadband service provider in their service area to resolve current and prolonged limitations with existing infrastructure,’” Martin said. “‘According to Snowshoe Mountain Resort management and their home owner associations, households within the service currently receive less than three megabytes per second broadband service – where available – over legacy and antiquated DSL copper based infrastructure.’
“Less than four percent of Pocahontas County had assess to four megabytes,” Martin continued. “The project was approved and funded by the West Virginia Broadband Council.”

While the money was there and ready to fund the project, there were still several hurdles CityNet had to jump before the project even started.

“One of the challenges was ‘how are we going to get broadband to them?’” Martin said of Snowshoe. “We were very creative. We came up with the idea to use microwave technology. Again, the challenge was there was no middle mile infrastructure. There was no network to connect from our office in Bridgeport to Snowshoe. The other option was, we could go to Frontier and buy a circuit from Bridgeport to Snowshoe. Frontier came back and quoted us about two million dollars a year for that service. So just before we could even turn on our first customer, Frontier wanted us to pay [that].”

Other hurdles were that First Energy did not allow CityNet to connect to power poles in Cass; getting rights-of-way from private land-owners; and dealing with the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN).

Regardless of the hurdles, CityNet powered on and found ways to work with other partner businesses to get broadband to the mountain.

“Our first key partner was the resort itself and they gave us access to all the rights-of-way on top of the mountain,” Martin said. “They gave us access to the fiber they already had in place and gave us access to some of the condos they have. Also, we partnered with other broadband providers in the area. The first was Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone Inc. We partnered with HardyNet and with Shentel. We also partnered with the Department of Commerce, Cass Scenic Railroad, The West Virginia Office of Technology and the NRAO.”

With the partnerships in place, the building began. CityNet designed a microwave network that used existing towers and new fiber.

“We built fiber from Snowshoe over to Silver Creek, over on the backside of the ridge up to Sharp’s Knob, then we laid fiber and came all the way down the railroad into the town of Cass at which point we hooked up with Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks and HardyNet,” Martin said. “Once that connection was in place, we were able to activate the network on November 1.
“It has an all fiber backbone,” he continued. “We have three types of last mile deployment. One is fiber, the other was we actually ran ethernet cable to the homeowners and for some of the older properties we used what is called VDSL. We also deployed seven high def cameras and then our microwave network is in process.”

Since November 1, CityNet has signed up 60 percent of the market at Snowshoe for services. The current network does not extend to the farthest reaches of the mountain where the other 40 percent of the properties are located.

“It’s probably been one of the most rewarding projects that we’ve ever done in that when we went up there and started our deployment, it was amazing to hear how much demand there was for broadband and what little effort was being put in to expanding the network,” Martin said. “One of the goals we’ve got is we would like to see how we can continue broadband throughout the county, specifically, we’d like to get down here to Marlinton and into Hillsboro.”

Martin explained that although the West Virginia Broadband Council was disbanded, he hopes the new legislature will consider the impact of broadband and how it needs to continue to support increasing services in the state.

“Hopefully, with our new legislative leadership that’s in place, there’s been a lot of talk about broadband now,” he said. “In the past, if you even mentioned the word ‘broadband,’ you kind of got looked down upon, but with the new Republican leadership I think there’s a real good chance we’re going to be able to get some funding to make a broadband expansion in the rural markets.”

The importance of better broadband is becoming a nationwide concern and Martin said West Virginia is on the lower end of the spectrum at providing decent service.

“The other thing that’s going to be a real eye opener is the federal government is about to change the definition of broadband to twenty-five megabytes,” he said. “We’re one megabyte here in Pocahontas County. The government wants to say that the definition is twenty-five megs. When that happens, West Virginia is going to look like a big empty hole [on a map].

“I think there’s a real good chance the council will come back and I think there is a real good chance the leadership is going to do some things in the near future to help enable some broadband and really enable competition,” Martin continued. “When you have competition, things change. Look what happened at Snowshoe.”

After Martin’s presentation, Chamber of Commerce president Mike Holstine announced that Marlinton was selected to be one of five “Gigabit Cities” in West Virginia.

“It’s basically a city that will support and have gigabit Internet,” Holstine said. “Not megabyte or kilobyte, but gigabyte Internet access.”

See next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times for a story on the Gigabit City project.

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