By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
Local internet provider Andrew Meador addressed the Tucker County Commission about the impact Prodigy’s Broadband Roll Out is having on his business. Meador supplies internet to the St. George area and local resident Ron Marker also addressed the Commission in support of Meador and his internet service. Meador claimed the broadband roll out was negatively impacting his business and submitted a $65,000 funding request to the Commission. While the funding request was not formally addressed because it was not on the agenda, the Commission said they would help with assistance through grant funding if any would become available.
Meador claimed that he was currently operating at a $1,000 a month loss and was facing having to raise the cost to customers 45% to save his business. Meador said the Prodigy project was negatively impacting his business and made any future expansion of his service impossible. Meador also said he was trying to avoid shutting down his business.
Marker said he was addressing the Commission on behalf of the citizens of St. George. According to Marker, Meador’s service was far superior to the town’s previous provider and provides needed services to residents and business owners alike. Marker said that one resident relies on the service for her income as she works from home. “I’m here to speak on behalf of the citizens of St. George,” Marker said. “We have an internet service right now by Andrew (Meador) and before that we had no internet. We had one service that if you wanted to download something, you started that morning and come back in the evening and check to see if it downloaded. But since he got his service up and running, its been great.”
Marker said that if any of the customers have an issue, Meador provides excellent customer service. Marker also requested the Commission consider helping Meador however they could to help save the internet in St. George. “No issues what so ever,” Marker said. “If you have an issue, you call him, he’s right there.”
Tucker County Commission President Mike Rosenau said that the Commission will reach out if any grants become available. Commissioner Fred Davis also said that the Commission tries to take care of the citizens of Tucker County. “We get a lot of information from the State level and the State organization, too, that notifies us of grants or assist in writing grants,” Rosenau said. “So we got that level, too.”
Marker said that he hoped that Meador having backing from the Commission would help convince residents who had not signed onto the service to consider doing so. Rosenau said he was glad that St. George had good internet service and hoped getting the word out to those who may not have known about the service would help, as well.
Meador addressed the Commission partly from a prepared statement. According to Meador, he is paying for his own infrastructure and attested that he cannot compete with the government funding that Prodigy is receiving. The Prodigy Broadband Project is funded through a State grant that involved a grant match from the Commission. “I stand here before you as an internet service provider facing failure due to the government funded competition that has come into this area from Prodigy,” Meador said. “My plea is not just for my business but for the preservation of fair competition and for the well being of the community.”
Meador also claimed that the Prodigy project has land locked his service to St. George and made it impossible for him to expand his service. According to Meador, his business serves 80 sites in the St. George area. According to Meador, Prodigy has an unfair advantage due to the State grant funding the infrastructure costs of the company. Meador also claimed that Prodigy as a much larger company, can offer incentives such as free installation or reduced fee promotions that he simply does not have the capability to offer. “My business, which provides crucial high speed internet service in our area, is at a critical junction due to the overlapping coverage and financial advantages granted to Prodigy through government funding.”
Meador also supplied a $65,000 funding request to the Commission as a part of his address. The matter of the funding request could not be taken up by the Commission because it was not on the agenda. All Commission members said that while they sympathized with Meador and thanked him for providing the citizens of St. George with a valuable service, they could not provide funding to private industry.
The conversation became heated when Meador brought up the funding the Commission had supplied to Prodigy. Rosenau said that funding was not given directly to Prodigy and was a grant match through the State as a part of the Broadband Roll Out program. Rosenau said that for the County to be a part of the $8 million grant, the County needed “skin in the game” in the form of a grant match and that Prodigy came with a State funded and State approved grant. Rosenau also said that the County’s grant match and the State grant monies covered expansion from the Tucker County line at Preston County to the Barbour County line and through the middle of the County. “With us, Prodigy came with a grant from the State. An $8 million grant that was approved through the State. In order for Tucker County to be a part of that grant that Preston and Barbour Counties already acquired, we had to have skin in the game, as they call it. So that is why we invested $50,000 from taxpayers’ money in Tucker County. Prodigy just didn’t come in and say that, ‘We need $65,000, Michael. We need $65,000,’ and we just write them a check. That’s not the way it works. It’s a grant match…We didn’t just give Prodigy $50,000 that you alluded to in giving them. We didn’t give Prodigy (money), we did not do that,” Rosenau said. “We gave match grant money.”
While direct funding of Meador’s service is out of the Commission’s hands, the Commissioners said they would look for other avenues to assist Meador and if any grants or other funding opportunities arose, they would let him know. All three Commissioners said that as a governmental entity, they could not supply funding to small business owners. Meador was asked if he had applied for any grants for his business. Meador indicated that he had not. Commissioner Tim Knotts said, “We will support you in grants if we hear of any, but we can’t just hand out money to private business. That’s the thing, we can’t do it.”
Commissioner Fred Davis echoed the sentiment. “One thing about this Commission, we try to take care of our people in Tucker County. We will do whatever we can to do it, if our hands aren’t tied, we’ll do it. If we can’t, we can’t.” Davis said. “We will really work hard to help.”