$2.3 Million Award Expands Broadband to Another 106 Homes
By Ken Bustin
There were a lot of smiles and excited utterances in Pendleton County on Friday, when Governor Jim Justice announced the award of several broadband grants, totaling $3.9 million, for the Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD) program. Included was one for $2,296,596, slated for Pendleton County.
This marks the second round of grants awarded as part of Gov. Justice’s Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy, also known as the West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan (WVBIP).
Grant recipients were selected among applicants in the LEAD program’s second application round, which closed on Dec. 30, 2021.
“My Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy is really on the move. I could not be more proud of this announcement today,” Gov. Justice said on Friday. “By providing more and more of our communities with access to high-speed internet, West Virginia will be able to truly compete on the world stage. Businesses will be able to get a leg up by utilizing all the most cutting-edge technology at their disposal and residents will be able to tap into the benefits that broadband gives all of us. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
“We are opening the door to a bright new future,” Gov. Justice continued. “All West Virginians should be incredibly proud and excited for the advances that this program will inspire and the goodness it is going to bring to our state.”
This allocation of state funding, in the amount of $3,922,732 will leverage $872,500 in additional funds, for a total broadband infrastructure investment of $4,795,232, state-wide. Pendleton County’s grant accounted for a major share of this round of awards.
Gov. Justice previously announced the preliminary approval of another $17.4 million in LEAD program funds in the first round of grants awarded as part of his Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy. With Friday’s announcement, the total amount approved through the program to date now exceeds $21.3 million.
The LEAD program includes one additional application round, which closed on Jan. 30. The third round of approvals will be issued in the coming weeks.
Funding for the WVBIP’s LEAD program is provided through the West Virginia Legislature’s allocation of $100 million to create the West Virginia Broadband Development Fund. The Fund includes $90 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and $10 million in state general revenue funds. Funds are also derived through the ARPA Capital Projects Fund, which includes $136 million for broadband development in West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s Office of Broadband will administer the program funds.
Speaking to the Times about the award on Friday, Pendleton County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Executive Director Laura Brown was almost effervescent:
“We have anticipated this award for what seems like forever. When I got a call this morning from J.P. [Mowery], who was the first one to see the Governor’s announcement, I admit I may have screamed in his ear from excitement,” said Brown, grinning from ear to ear. “We – the Broadband Council, the county commission and others – have put many hours and a lot of energy into meetings, working towards a plan for our county. This award really validates that time as well spent.”
“Our ISP partner, Lingo Networks, and our engineering firm, Thrasher – especially our contact from there, Jeffrey Hartley – were also thrilled with the award. They have been incredibly helpful and knowledgeable throughout this process and will continue to be an asset to our county,” Brown declared.
“But,” she added, her tone returning from exuberant to serious, “as excited as we all are, we are making plans for our next steps so we can reach our goal – connectivity for all of Pendleton County. It’s important for the public and our community to understand that the area for this particular grant award, was developed with broadband maps supplied by the state, which guided us in which areas we could apply for. Combining those maps with how our ISP could actually build was a challenge, but the West Virginia State Department worked with our local guru, Rick Gillespie, to get us through that process. This 31 miles of new fiber build that we have been awarded with the LEAD grant will continue to lay the main trunk line of fiber in our county. Just like roads, you have to extend off existing infrastructure and that is what we are doing with fiber.”
Though a bit more subdued than Brown in his reaction, Gene McConnell, Pendleton County Commission president, was clearly also enjoying the moment and the accomplishment.
“This grant award is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. While expansion of broadband in Pendleton County is dependent on the availability of government funding, implementation will be a journey and this is just the first leg. Our goal is to ensure that anyone who desires a broadband Internet connection has the option of acquiring that connection.” he said.
- P. Mowery, business manager for Pendleton County Schools, together with the Pendleton County Library, are awaiting news on a broadband application of their own. Mowery also served on the broadband council and was enthusiastic in his reaction to the news:
“The grant awarded Friday is a really big deal for Pendleton County. Yes, there is a lot further to go, but this was not a slam dunk and took many hours and effort to make it a reality,” said, adding, “It truly was a team effort and I was grateful to be a part of that. All broadband council members are to be applauded for attending the many meetings necessary to discuss details and plans.”
“But make no mistake,” said Mowery, “without the leadership, vision, conviction, and enthusiasm of Laura Brown, this would not have happened. She kept a team of diverse members, with diverse opinions, focused on the goal and the task at hand. She is simply outstanding at her job.”
“It also would have been very difficult for this to happen without the extreme expertise, dedication to detail, and tenacity of Rick Gillespie,” Mowery declared. “Rick’s years of roaming the roads of Pendleton County and beyond as a state trooper helped immensely with knowledge of mapping and where potential pathways crisscross the county currently. Mapping potential routes was very difficult. Rick’s knowledge was invaluable,” he opined.
“I also applaud the Pendleton County Commission for stepping forward and offering ARPA funds to serve as a county match for this project,” Mowery said. The commission voted late last year to earmark $1 million, the lion’s share of the funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, for matching funds needed to apply for additional grants. Including the grant just awarded, Pendleton County and the School/Library consortium have applied for about $6.3 million in grants to expand and develop broadband in the county.
“Students, parents, and the general citizenry will potentially benefit from this initiative for generations to come. The task now is to make sure this initiative is followed up on by additional future projects to enhance broadband access in the county,” Mowery concluded.
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