By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
Tim Wotring from Prodigy addressed the Tucker County Commission about the proposed broadband expansion through the County. The $8 million project targeted at expanding broadband internet access to rural and unserviced areas through a State of West Virginia grant is partially funded with a $50,000 contribution by Tucker County Commission.
Tucker County Commission President Mike Rosenau the roll out will bring fiber service to Hannahsville, Piper Mountain, Texas Mountain, St. George, Limestone, Leadmine, Shafer, Parsons, Hambleton and Mackeyville among others. “Let me read some of the service areas we have since the public can’t see the map itself,” Rosenau said. “ We go down to Hannahsville,we go up Piper Mountain, Texas Mountain, St. George, Limestone, it comes right down through Leadmine, doesn’t it? It goes all the way down past Shafer Town.”
Wotring said the stop point will be 12 Mile Road. “It looks like it stops around 12 Mile Road,” Wotring said.
In total, over 1,700 addresses in Tucker County will be included in the proposed route, according to Wotring. “Back in the summer we submitted a grant to build our Prodigy network out in Preston County and extend it to Tucker County,” Wotring said. “It comprises of roughly a 140 miles and it passes by over 1,700 addresses in Tucker County.”
The goal of the State funded program is to bring internet access to those who either had no current access or limited access, according to Wotring. “Basically what dictated how we did the map was the State provided addresses that what they considered Targeted and Non-targeted,” Wotring said. “Targeted was that address doesn’t have access to internet. So, our goal was to focus on those areas and get to the folks that didn’t have any access. So that’s why it might go up to way out there and not be much out there, but still reach those folks that otherwise would not be able to have access.”
Tucker County Commissioner Fred Davis said this will bring much needed service to areas that currently have little or no internet access. “Down in the areas where you’re going, you hear them always talking about how slow it is, we don’t have service and stuff like that,” Davis said. “This here will bring a lot better service to the areas that never had much internet service.”
A map of the rollout area will be made available to the public at a later date, according to Wotring. “We will have this map made available on the internet soon as we get what they call the Notice to Construct from the State,” Wotring said.
According to Wotring, the route was designated due to funding parameters set forth by the grant. “When you look at that map, you will see that it is a real narrow coverage area,” Wotring said. “And the reason that is, is because how the grant was structured, basically your matching funds, we had to put forth what we were accountable for was based upon how many addresses you passed. It was $500 per address passed. So if we would have broadened that, it would have been less mileage we could have covered.”
However, even with the restrictions, the system was designed to allow for far more residents to be able to access than the map shows, according to Woltring. The main line, what Wotring called the Trunk Line, is scheduled to run along the proposed path on poles, according to Wotring and Rosenau. “The reason I share that is, that’s only like a 250 foot buffer on either side of the road. We are going to be able to reach much more than what that map shows,” Wotring said. “We’re running drops 3,000 foot off of the main line so just because your address doesn’t show up on that little blue area, if its within 3,000 feet of that blue area, we can reach it. So its covering a much larger area then what the blue line shows. That blue line is basically the trunk line and we can reach much further, much further off of that trunk line,” Wotring said.
Rosenau clarified with Wotring that access to the new lines would be at no cost to the citizens of Tucker County. According to Wotring, as long as the line passes by the address and the address can be reached by secondary lines, there is no cost to the address owner. “As long as we can get what they call the drop line,” Wotring said, “and that’s the fiber that goes from the main line to the house or the business, as long as we can get back to trunk line, there’s no cost and we are able to service that address.”
Davis asked how many in the County would benefit from the program. “How many people, if they take your service, with looking at all your lines there, how many people could actually hook onto this?” Davis said.
According to Wotring, the system is designed to be able to expanded on at a future date, but at current numbers, even if everyone along the line were to use it, it would still only be 30% of what the system was designed to handle. “We’ve got it engineered with about 30%, meaning you can grow 70% above what you already have and we’re still there,” Wotring said. “So, we calculated on all the addresses and we built the network so that if 100% of the folks signed to them, we would be at 30% capacity. So that will allow us for future growth. Last thing we wanted to do was build a network that was going to be outdated.”
Which, according to Wotring, could lead to expansion into other areas of the County at a later date after primary construction of the line is complete. “That’s the nice thing, once we get the structure here we can continue to build, but we had to get the infrastructure here before we could focus on expanding any further.”
According to Wotring, additional funding through money allocated to the State for broadband will be sought to expand Tucker County access in the coming years. “And I’m sure you’re aware, the State has won 1.2 Billion, with a B, in broadband funds,” Woltring said. “So, it’s going to be available in the next couple of years. So, it’s our goal to get this project well under way and hopefully nearly completed when that money becomes available. And then we’ll come back to you and say, ‘Ok, tell us what areas we need to focus on’ and we’ll continue to build and focus on that money.”
Rosenau said one of the goals of the Commission is to see broadband available everywhere in Tucker County. “That is one of our goals, to have broadband available throughout the whole County,” Rosenau said.
Rosenau said that he is pleased that the plan will bring more internet to homes of students who could benefit from the increased use of internet schooling. “Here’s the thing that I see, that I am so happy with,” Rosenau said. “We have so much internet schooling now. Say that we have a bad snow storm and I live on a farm and I can’t get out, the busses aren’t running, you know the roads are bad. Now if I have this service, my son can hook up to the internet and still keep his school work up. And to me that’s one of the things that I’m really proud of.”
Wotring said that work from home individuals will benefit along with those who utilize telemedicine services. “It’s that, it’s your work at home, it provides that,” Wotring said. “We’re seeing a big push in telemedicine now that folks in Preston County are now able to participate in now because they’ve got the reliable internet service. So, it will impact many facets of the communities.”
A completion date, according to Wotring will be within two years. Wotring also said he did not expect construction to begin until sometime after the first of the year with March being a possibility. “All of these funds have to be expended by 2/3 of 2026,” Wotring said. “We’re hoping to have this done within two years so completed within 2025.”
Wotring said there are some challenges to the project that stems from pole access requests. “The landscape of broadband deployment has drastically changed in the last couple of years mainly because of the new challenges that have arose getting attached to the utility poles,” Wotring said. “We’ve been fighting this in Charleston. The power companies and the telephone companies, they especially don’t want me there, but the power companies are being inundated with all these pole requests throughout the entire state and they are just overwhelmed with it. So, we are seeing some delays in getting the permits to attach the poles. We are working through that, but that is one of the new challenges that have surfaced as a result of all of these broadband grants.”
The next meeting of the Tucker County Commission will be held December 13 at 9 a.m. at the Old Courtroom of the Tucker County Courthouse located in Parsons.