The Pocahontas County Broadband Council called off its scheduled August 24 meeting because of scheduling issues among its members, however Ruthana Beasley and Amy Truesdale provided an update on the broadband projects in the county.
One of the more interesting comments in this update cited an article in the August 3, 2023 PC Magazine as saying that the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is facing trouble from a number of the Internet providers who bid on and won the broadband service installation rights to exclusive areas of the country. The FCC will be awarding $20 billion nationwide to those companies to build and provide broadband inside the areas they were awarded by the FCC. The federal government has restricted the use of any other federal funding to build broadband in those areas by other Internet service providers. However, according to PC Magazine, a large coalition of Internet service providers, who call themselves the “Coalition of RDOF Winners,” are now asking for additional RDOF money because inflation has increased the cost of constructing the broadband service that they committed to build in their bid areas. Some companies are also asking for the right to get out of their RDOF commitments altogether without suffering financial penalties from the FCC. Unless the FCC allows these bailouts, those companies would face tens of thousands of dollars in penalties if they default on their bids. It is unknown at this time how the FCC will respond to these challenges.
In Pocahontas County, two Internet service providers bid on and won portions of the county under RDOF. Frontier Communications and Citynet, with Frontier winning the majority of the populated areas of the county. It is not known if either of these companies is part of the “Coalition of RDOF Winners.”
The broadband update also provided a timeline for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Project in the county. Because Citynet is still working to get the pole connections with First Energy wrapped up in the next 30 days, the new schedule has actual construction now starting in the summer of 2024.
Regarding the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, the state Broadband Council’s Digital Equity Plan’s comment period is over, and those comments will go to the feds for review as the next step in this process.
The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides vouchers for low-income households to get Internet service is set to run out of funds in 2024. It was suggested that people reach out to their legislators to have this program refunded. The council will discuss sending letters to legislators about this at its September 7 meeting.
The Pocahontas County commission signed letters to Frontier and Citynet asking them to provide updates on the progress of their RDOF projects in the county.
The fiber map on the Broadband Council’s webpage has been updated -see: https://pocahontascountybroadband.com/