At the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce annual dinner January 17, chamber president Mike Holstine announced that Marlinton had been selected to be one of five Gigabit Cities.
Last week, Holstine explained that the status was the result of discussions during the broadband summit held last summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank.
“I formed and held the first Broadband Summit mainly for rural areas, but for Pocahontas County in particular,” Holstine said. “I invited the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council to hold their meeting here in Pocahontas County as part of the summit.”
During that meeting, West Virginia Geographic Information Systems coordinator Tony Simental presented a plan for broadband in West Virginia. The plan included suggestions to increase Internet speed, increase infrastructure, and procedures the state could follow to ensure the Internet operates at the highest speed possible.
“One of the recommendations was to develop a study plan for five Gigabit Cities within the state,” Holstine said. “Of course – in the plan – those gigabit cities were major metropolitan areas. After they had their meeting, at lunch, I was talking with both Tony and [WVBDC Chair] Judge Dan O’Hanlon. I said, ‘you know that all makes sense and it’s logical, but there’s nothing that addresses rural areas. If we’re going to do a plan to study these things, wouldn’t it be nice if we tried to figure out a way to develop the rural areas in West Virginia.’ The judge agreed and he said he would recommend doing that.”
O’Hanlon announced at the summit that Pocahontas County – in particular Marlinton – would serve as one of the five Gigabit Cities.
Although the WVBDC disbanded at the end of 2014, plans for the five Gigabit Cities will continue with studies of Internet speeds in each location.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Holstine said. “It’s fantastic for the county. It will be a feasibility study to see what it would take, infrastructure wise, to provide Marlinton and, therefore, rural areas with gigabit per second Internet service.”
Dial-up Internet speed is an estimated 56 kilobits per second. A megabit is 1,000 kilobits and a gigabit is roughly 1,000 megabits.
In its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, released January 29, the FCC voted to change the definition of minimum broadband speed from four megabits per second to 25 megabits per second.
“To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, right now for instance, I have kilobit per second at my house,” Holstine said. “That’s one thousand bits per second. I’ve been told by existing Internet service provider that the switch which is in Frost in only provisioned at 320 kilobits per second, so I can never get more than 320 kilobits per second, even though the advertised speeds for the county are three megabits per second. That’s ten times more than what I’m actually getting.
“Once you leave kilobits per second, you jump to megabits per second – ten times the speed puts you in megabits,” he continued. “You take another giant leap in speed and you get into gigabits. It would be a light speed jump in the amount of information that the citizenry would be able to get.”
In order to increase speeds to turn Marlinton into a Gigabit City, the council will look at the speeds currently available, as well as the availability of infrastructure.
“They’ll look at the cost, the potential profitability of what they’re going to do, the viability of the network and whether it is best for the state to install this system or if there are Internet service providers that are willing to do it based on the cost or subsidies they might receive,” Holstine said. “It will look at the cost of not only deploying the network, developing infrastructure, but what it will cost to maintain that infrastructure, and then work out a plan for installing it.”
After the plan is complete, the council will either put the job out for bid or find grant funding to increase the infrastructure in the county.
Once Marlinton is officially turned on as a Gigabit City and residents are receiving gigabit per second Internet, it will pave the way for higher speeds throughout the county.
Internet service providers Frontier, Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone Inc., CityNet and Shentel have already laid fiber optic lines in the county which may be connected to get higher speeds in the northern and southern parts of the county.
“Right now what we’re trying to get to occur is to get fiber to connect Cass to Stony Bottom and then from Stony Bottom down to Marlinton,” Holstine said “If we can get fiber to there, there already exist open access fiber back to the high school. If we could get it to Marlinton, that would open up a pipeline. [Providers] would now have a pipeline and could expand Marlinton, Hillsboro and the areas south.
“If we can get on the open access fiber back to the high school and get from there to Dunmore – that short section – that puts us back into Spruce Knob fiber optic territory,” he continued. “Then all we have to worry about is trying to jump over to Minnehaha Springs or to Frost and then we would have the middle mile infrastructure that would allow the ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to spread.”
One way to improve Internet speeds is to replace old copper wire with the higher speed and more durable fiber optic line.
“Fiber can carry anything,” Holstine said. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s all in the terminal. Spruce Knob – by their grant – is putting in fiber and is providing service that was at that time considered high speed broadband which was four megabits per second. If the standard goes to twenty-five and they have the pipeline out of here, all they have to do is turn up their equipment and they meet the new broadband standard.”
At this time, Pocahontas County has the slowest Internet speed in West Virginia. The WVBDC did a broadband speed test of each county in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The results showed the percentage of tests which were at or above four megabits per second. Pocahontas County was at zero percent in 2012; two percent in 2013; and four percent in 2014. Although the county showed improvement, it was still the lowest in the state.