New Hope for Preston’s Battle for Better Highspeed Broadband/Internet

No question, when it comes to having good-quality high-speed broadband Internet service, much of Preston County continues to be on the short end of the stick. Many say our Internet connectivity woes have to do with the county’s relatively small population and mountainous terrain. Hope for change has come in the form of mostly bold ideas that have yet to mature into a viable project. There have been a few success stories, however.

Back in August, the Preston County News & Journal was first to report that a Hazelton technology company was in the process of making a huge, $2 million investment in new fiber-optic lines specifically for the North Preston region.

Digital Connections Vice President Tim Wotring told us about his company’s ambitious plan to run 100 miles of fiber to cover the northern section of Preston County, with plans to go toward Terra Alta next year. That project is still underway.

Last spring, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) unveiled her bold, high-speed Internet/broadband initiative, called the Capito Connect Plan. In it, she laid out a three-step approach to tackling the broadband challenge in West Virginia.

The three steps are: Understanding the benefits of a connected West Virginia; fostering collaboration between government and the private sector; and promoting economic growth through innovation.

Part of the plan was what Senator Capito called a listening tour where her staff visited every county in the state, including Preston. The goal was to get a better understanding of the real Internet/broadband problems families and businesses face every day.

More recent good news: On Dec. 4, the long-term federal highway funding bill, or “FAST Act,” was signed into law. Along with billions for highway infrastructure, the final legislation also provides $50 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission for its high-speed broadband deployment initiative through 2020. Preston County is a perfect candidate for funds from this program designed to increase affordable access to high-speed Internet, support distance-learning opportunities and the use of telehealth technologies, and promote business development.

And on Thursday, Dec. 10, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced an estimated $160 million settlement with Frontier Communications to resolve complaints involving Internet speeds provided to consumers.

According to a press release from Morrisey’s office, the multi-faceted settlement requires Frontier to invest at least $150 million in capital expenditures to increase Internet speeds across West Virginia and provide access to areas currently without high-speed service. The settlement also includes a decrease in monthly rates for affected consumers. According to Morrisey himself, the agreement is the “largest, independently negotiated consumer protection settlement in West Virginia history.”

It should also be noted that the $150 million of new investment by Frontier over the next three years is in addition to an estimated $180 million in upgrades Frontier has already announced as part of the federal government’s Connect America Fund II.

All of this, especially the Attorney General’s Office settlement with Frontier, is great news for Preston County in particular. We are, by definition, a rural county. Communities like Aurora, Eglon, Bruceton Mills, Cuzzart, Rowlesburg, Independence, Newberg and so many others absolutely need better high-speed broadband/Internet service. The settlement announcement, coupled with the effort by Tim Wotring and his team, as well as Senator Capito’s initiative, could be the tipping point in the battle to improve connectivity in Preston County.

By:  John Dahlia
Source: The Preston County News & Journal