Seven-figure grant funding to expand broadband access in Preston, Marion, Mon counties
WASHINGTON — In a world where everything from health care to education revolves around the internet, connectivity to it has taken a level of importance only below the most important of necessities, such as water, sanitation and power.
With that in mind, U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have been looking for ways to get — and keep — the Mountain State on an even playing field in the cyberspace arena.
A big score for Northern West Virginia was announced Monday: Funding of nearly $5 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support two projects that will help expand access to broadband in Preston, Monongalia, and Marion counties.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Capito is more able to steer money toward her home state than many of her peers in Congress’s upper body.
And she said that’s what she did with this funding, which is part of what she terms her “Capito Connect” plan.
One of the frustrations she has, and that is voiced by her constituents, is that “many people have the lack of broadband in general, and also the lack of good speeds at an affordable rate.”
Getting fiber optic cable to as many West Virginia households as possible is the key, she added.
Broadband, she adds, is essential in countless ways to everyday life. Capito ticked off examples: Economic development, health care (telehealth, including telestroke) and education. None of that is possible if there is no access to broadband, if the speeds are too slow, or if Mountain State residents can’t afford it, she indicated.
“Through my Capito Connect plan, I’ve worked hard to help local communities and service providers secure federal resources that will help better connect West Virginia and to make sure those funds reach the communities and projects in our state that need them the most,” Capito added. “I’m so excited to hear these critical resources are coming to Preston, Marion, and Monongalia counties in North Central West Virginia to support efforts that will help bring us one step closer to closing the digital divide in the Mountain State.”
Manchin, D-W.Va. and also a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, shares the same thoughts.
“Access to broadband is crucial to the health of West Virginia businesses and communities. Without access to quality, dependable broadband coverage, West Virginia businesses simply cannot compete in the 21st century economy and our communities suffer because of it,” Manchin said in a news release.
“This is why I have made improving broadband access across West Virginia one of my top priorities and applaud the USDA for investing in our state,” Manchin said.
As much as $3 million will go to the Preston County Economic Development Authority, to help construct an 83.4-mile Fiber-to-the-Premises network in northern Preston County. And $1,960,000 is for ClearFiber Inc., to help construct a Fiber-to-the-Premises network to 2,308 households in portions of the Monongalia and Marion counties.
The Preston County Economic Development Authority grant will construct the network in northern Preston County, according to Donald “DJ” LaVoy, USDA deputy under secretary for rural development.
The proposed area has a population of 3,545 and the system passes 1,337 households. The service area includes the towns of Clifton Mills, Hazelton, Lenox and Cuzzart, according to LaVoy.
This network will provide broadband speeds starting at 25 Mbps and going up to 2 Gbps, LaVoy said. A community center will be provided where residents can access the internet free of charge for at least two years.
ClearFiber’s project is planned for an area with no access or limited access to the internet, and will support service at levels up to 1 Gbps for each subscriber.
By: Matt Harvey
Source: The Exponent Telegram
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