A small telecommunications cooperative is bringing true broadband Internet to parts of Pocahontas County, as most county residents continue to wait. Meanwhile, a Virginia company is investing its own money to complete a portion of “middle mile” fiber-optic network to bring greater bandwidth to Western Virginia and possibly, in the future, Pocahontas County.
In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined “broadband” as a minimum four megabits (4 Mb) per second download speed and 1 Mb upload speed. According to the FCC, 4 Mb is the minimum speed required for using today’s video-rich broadband applications and services, while retaining sufficient capacity for basic web browsing and e-mail. Many experts have stated the threshold speed should be higher. The definition is used by the government when it awards grant money for broadband projects.
Most Pocahontas County residents cannot receive broadband Internet, as defined by the FCC. Many in unincorporated areas cannot receive 1 Mb download speed. But two areas of the county are seeing significant upgrades.
On March 12, the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council awarded a $713,000 grant to Citynet, Inc., to bring broadband to Snowshoe Mountain via a microwave link. Two weeks later, Frontier Communications, the sole Internet provider in most of Pocahontas County, announced that it had completed upgrades at Snowshoe, “providing customers there with enhanced speeds.”
Bridegeport-based Citynet joins an even smaller company bringing competition to telecommunications giant Frontier in rural Pocahontas County.
Spruce Knobs Seneca Rocks Telephone, Inc., (SKSRT), a non-profit cooperative based in Pendleton County, received $8.5 million in grant money to expand broadband service in Pendleton County and northern Pocahontas County. SKSRT will provide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service, with virtually unlimited speeds, based on price.
On Monday, SKSRT contract engineer David Hunt provided a timetable for FTTH deployment in Pocahontas County.
Hunt said households between Thornwood and Bartow can expect to receive FTTH service within 30 days. Households in the Bartow, Durbin and Green Bank areas are scheduled to receive FTTH service this summer. Finally, residents in the Cass and Dunmore area can expect FTTH availability in the late summer to fall time frame. SKSRT’s current project extends to just south of Dunmore, although the cooperative has contingency plans to extend FTTH service even further into the county.
The engineer said SKSRT will offer basic Internet packages in Pocahontas County at comparable cost to packages provided elsewhere. SKSRT’s website advertises basic Internet packages with download speeds ranging from 1.5 Mb ($39.99 per month) to 10 Mb ($79.99 per month). Much higher speeds will be available on a special order basis.
Hunt said SKSRT’s project is bringing FTTH availability to 762 full-time households and 560 seasonal housing units. Only customers who order FTTH service will be connected. Hunt said orders can be placed by calling the SKSRT office in Green Bank. The engineer added that customers outside the current SKSRT project area should call to let the cooperative know they want FTTH service. The company will use the information as it considers plans for future expansion in the county.
“If there’s other people in the county that are interested in service, we’d like to know about it, so that we can make plans for any future expansions,” said Hunt. “We are looking for every opportunity, but it’s going to be based on the availability of funds to do that.”
MGW bringing more bandwidth to Highland County
Last week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times featured a report on Highland Telephone Cooperative’s efforts to provide broadband service in neighboring Highland County, Virginia. The article mentioned that another company, MGW, also provides broadband service in Highland County. MGW is a privately-held, family company based in Staunton,Virginia.
MGW vice president Ryan Smith said the company is spending more than $1 million to build a fiber backbone into Western Virginia.
“We’re bringing fiber along Route 250, all the way from Staunton into Bath and Highland Counties,” he said. “It’s our company’s investment. We are a privately-owned company, so we decided to pay for it out of pocket.”
The project involves laying approximately 25 miles of fiber-optic cable. Smith said it costs the company between $30,000 to $40,000 to lay fiber-optic cable in Western Virginia.
“It will help improve Highland County broadband,” said Smith. “Highland [Telephone Cooperative] and MGW are pretty close. For example, if somebody needs a part, we’ll get them a part. That’s the difference between being local as opposed to being large. We enjoy that relationship because we help each other out, as needed.”
MGW currently provides three basic Internet packages in Highland County: 1 Mb ($42 per month); 3 Mb ($52 per month) and 5 Mb ($62 per month). Following the completion of MGW’s fiber-optic cable project, estimated in a year, MGW customers will enjoy triple the broadband speed for the same price, according to Smith.
“Our one meg customers will be able to get up to three meg,” said Smith. “He’ll pay the same price. The rest of our customers will be able to get – we’d like to do up to twenty meg, that’s where our goal is.”
As MGW’s fiber project proceeds along Route 250, more and more customers are receiving super-fast FTTH broadband.
“Along Route 250, where you cross over from where our service stopped, those people still had no form of Internet,” said Smith. “So, those people are getting fiber-to-the-home as their first form of Internet.”
Smith said no laws or regulations prevent the company from moving into West Virginia. MGW’s broadband service area currently extends to Mountain Grove, Virginia – 18 miles via Route 39 to Marlinton.
“Definitely something to consider,” he said. “I’ve looked at the map fifteen hundred times, but I didn’t realize that Marlinton is that close to the edge of our service territory. Thinking outside the box is what we like to do and try to make it work. That’s how business works. It may take time but a void will be filled.”