At the April 13 Pocahontas County Broadband Council Meeting, John Tuggle of Region 4 informed the members that at a recent meeting with Citynet, it was learned that any USDA Community Connect Grants the council may receive to expand broadband service in the county will be prohibited from encroaching in any way on the vast areas of the county which had been awarded by the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to Frontier Communications.
Tuggle said that it had previously been understood that RDOF areas which were not actively being built could be built by using federal funds received from other sources, such as Community Connect. Tuggle went on to say this new policy is “very disturbing” because it “fouls up the map” by cutting off non-RDOF areas which are surrounded by RDOF areas. Those cut-off areas can no longer be reached by Citynet who would be building broadband under a Community Connect Grant.
Brian Tew, of Thompson and Litton (T&L), described it this way – “The broadband dartboard just got smaller.” He said this means that some areas where we are allowed to build under Community Connect can no longer be reached by Citynet if they have to pass through Frontier’s RDOF area. Basically, this new RDOF policy states that any areas awarded under RDOF are totally off limits to projects funded by any other federal grants or funds.
Frontier has not started building in any of their RDOF awarded areas, and they are now in year three of being awarded their areas. They are allowed up to eight years to complete their broadband projects in their RDOF awarded areas.
Sarah Riley suggested the Broadband Council contact the USDA Senior Policy Advisor to complain about these restrictions, and also to attempt to discuss the new RDOF policy with Conrad Lucas and Allison Ellis, of Frontier Communications who have seemed willing to be cooperative in the past.
In his update on the ARC Project, Brian Tew told the council that the project is on hold until after utility pole agreements with Mon Power and Frontier are completed and approved by the county commission. Amanda Smarr of Region 4 said the agreement with Mon Power is almost ready to be returned from the utility, and they hope to use the same agreement for the Frontier poles. Once Region IV reviews these agreements, they will be forwarded to the county commission for its approval, and then the project can move forward.
Amy Truesdale of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC) said utilities across the state have been very slow in approving these types of pole agreements because they are slammed with work right now.
Regarding the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, the council is required to identify and hold a public meeting with under-represented groups such as:
• Members of a racial or ethnic minority group.
• Low-income people.
• Aging people.
• Incarcerated people.
• People with disabilities.
• People with a language barrier.
• And people who primarily live in a rural area.
Region 4 has made up a spreadsheet with contact information for these public meetings, and additional names were added at this meeting. The BEAD meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, April 27, at 1 p.m. at either the Marlinton Town Hall, the Opera House or the library.
According to the BEAD website: The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.