Wednesday, December 18, was a huge day for Wetzel and Tyler Counties with the announcement by Chad Rupe, USDA Rural Utilities Administrator for the USDA of Grant and Loan funding for expanding broadband service within the two areas.
The Broadband Reconnect program offers unique federal financing and funding options in the form of loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in areas of rural America that don't currently have sufficient access to broadband, defined by law as 10 Mbps (megabits per second) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
The Tyler County Development Authority, Inc. was awarded a 50/50 percent loan/grant totaling $3,516.000 which will provide direct fiber broadband internet availability to 1,366 households, farms and businesses covering 26.13 square miles with a service population of 3,291. The installation of 74 miles of the new service will reach areas in the county with either inadequate and unreliable internet service, or no service at all.
The Red (Regional Economical Development) Partnership, Wetzel Counties Grant Recipient was awarded a 50/50 percent loan/grant total project cost of $4,189.000 to cover 1,909 households and businesses over an area of 47.76 square miles with a service population of 4,622. The re-connect program will allow RED and CityNet to provide 87 miles of new service of broadband internet fiber access area along Route 20 and Route 7 up to Hundred.
Tyler Counties eligible service area for the new broadband fiber optic cable includes the Town of Middlebourne and the Pursley, Centerville, Alma and Shirley areas. Chad Rupe, made the joint award announcement on Wednesday, at the Short Line School in Reader, where a public ceremony was held.
The ceremony was attended by USDA, State, Regional and County officials along with private business and community members.
"Both of these projects are providing critical communications investments in some truly rural areas if West Virginia," Rupe said. "Through USDA's ReConnect program, these counties will get access to the latest broadband technology, and that will have a positive economic impact for the farms and ranches, small businesses and families that live in these communities. Under the leadership of President Thrump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to this strong partnership with rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives."
Several State, Local and Federal representatives spoke at Wednesday's ceremony. On hand for the announcement were State House of Representatives David Pethel and David Kelly as well as Tyler County Development Authority Members. Wetzel County Board of Education Members and Superintendent of Schools Ed Toman were also present.
Tyler County Commissioner Eric Vincent and Wetzel County Commissioner Lisa Heasley spoke on behalf of the hard work put into the project by everyone involved and the benefits the project will provide for the counties. Vincent gave credit to the Tyler County Commissioners for their support and the TCDA for their dedication to the project. He said he was proud to be a part of helping residents in Tyler County obtain reliable internet service. Heasley mentioned the hard work of the Regional Economic Development on behalf of the residents of Wetzel County, saying she was excited to be a part of such a big project that will do so much to advance opportunities in the county.
"We faced significant competition for this grant from projects throughout the United States. The cost of all the projects proposed nationwide was far greater than the USDA funds available. Completing and submitting the application for funding was a very technical and extensive process," said Eric Peters, the TCDA executive director. ' this was an 86-page application. It required a very capable team who made it possible for our application to be successful."
The team included TCDA members, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Planning and Development Council, planning consultants Thompson and Litton, and CityNet.
"The Tyler County Development Authority will own the system's physical infrastructure and will lease it to a private service provider. CityNet was instrumental in providing technical expertise and their background as a successful and experienced service provider was invaluable. We anticipate that CityNet will be our contracted ISP (internet service provider)," Peters stated.
During remarks at the announcement event, Peters explained that digital infrastructure is absolutely necessary to the growth of the Tyler County economy, through both existing businesses and new businesses. Reliable broadband is vital to the recruitment of new residents and to keeping more of the county's young people from leaving the county for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
"It's also important to our agribusinesses and family farms," Peters added.
"It's also vital to improving the quality of life for more of our county's population: Enhanced educational resources for our young people: better communications and entertainment and learning options for families; not to mention enhancement to healthcare services and public safety."
"The residents of Tyler County deserve the level of access to the positive benefits of the internet, every bit as much as the majority of Americans who already enjoy those benefits. We are fortunate to have a development authority membership and a county commission that understands all of this."
Peters extended the TCDA's gratitude to the USDA, federal and state legislators, county elected leaders and the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council for their support of the ReConnect application, as well as the members of the application team from CityNet and Broadband consultant, Thompson and Litton.
"I especially want to personally thank the thirty-plus farm owners and business owners who took the time to assist us by allowing me to visit with them in order to determine their lack of quality internet service and for their willingness to support our application by indicating their interest in becoming subscribers to our proposed broadband service. The success of our application hinged upon that support."
" Even after this new system is in place, we still have plenty of work to do in order to reach more of our county population with reliable broadband service. We consider this ReConnect project to be only the initial step toward making cost-competitive broadband available to more residents of Tyler County. This includes folks residing in areas of the county, which are not at this time, eligible under the ReConnect program. We have not forgotten about you," Peters said.
Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today announced $5.6 million for Wetzel and Tyler counties, $2,094,500 and $3,516,000 respectively, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Program to expand broadband infrastructure for 3,250 rural households, educational facilities, health care centers, and nearly 200 businesses in the area. The USDA also announced a second round of $550 million in available funding that will be open for applications on January 30th, 2020.
"I am so proud that Wetzel and Tyler counties have been awarded $5.6 million to expand broadband access, which is vital for rural communities like those in West Virginia to compete in the 21st century. Throughout this application process my office has provided support to these counties and other applicants, providing resources and helping to ensure that they were competitive in this funding process. Wetzel and Tyler counties will now be able to ensure that rural communities in these counties have access to reliable broadband, no matter where people live. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I was also able to secure an additional $555 million for rural broadband infrastructure expansion through the USDA in the 2020 Appropriations package the Senate will vote on this week. The bill also ensures this funding will be targeted to areas of the country with the largest broadband coverage gaps, including those with challenging mountainous terrain, and directs USDA to make the application process easier and provide better assistance to applicants throughout the process. I will continue to advocate for funding that supports expanding reliable broadband access in rural areas and look forward to supporting the applicants for the additional funding available in January," said Senator Manchin.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced two awards through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) ReConnect program. Wetzel and Tyler Counties have been approved for a $2 million grant and $3.5 million grant/loan combination, respectively. This funding will support the construction of fiber networks that will provide broadband service to residents, businesses, and community facilities in the two counties.
"Over the past year I have been working with communities across the state to help them take advantage of the tremendous opportunity presented by the ReConnect program," Senator Capito said. "As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I fought hard for this funding and spoke directly with Secretary Perdue urging him to fund projects in West Virginia. I am pleased that multiple applicants were successful in this year's round and will continue to assist communities as they develop applications for next year. My Capito Connect plan is delivering demonstrable results across the states as more communities are seeking federal funding to deliver broadband."
As a leader on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Capito helped create and secure funds in the FY2018 budget for the ReConnect program. Through her Capito Connect initiative, Senator Capito has made improving connectivity and closing the digital divide in West Virginia a top priority and has worked to advance efforts and deliver resources to support programs like ReConnect.