Governor Jim Justice has announced seven counties in central West Virginia are receiving grant funding to install broadband and high-speed internet.
The more than $17 million Phase 1 project awarded to the Roane County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA) is funded by the new Gig-Ready grant, which is earmarked from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The Phase 1 project will use existing utility poles, where possible, through Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Jackson, Roane and Webster counties with interconnection points in Webster Springs and Dixie. The RCEDA is providing a 25-percent match on the $23 million project with WesBanco providing the interim financing.
The Phase 1 project will cover approximately 285 miles, providing broadband to more than 8,700 homes and businesses. Of that approximately 33 miles of backbone and 23 miles of last mile fiber will make high speed internet available to an estimated 650 households and businesses in Braxton County.
“This is an exciting time for us,” said Mark Whitley, Executive Director of the Roane County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA), which applied for the grant dollars. “The impact will be major for our seven county partners. The Phase 1 project will boost online learning, business efficiency, virtual communications, healthcare services and so much more. The overall quality of life will be greatly enhanced. This project makes our region a better place to live, work and play.”
Terrell Ellis, Executive Director of the Braxton County Development Authority echoed her Roane counterpart’s comments. “This is exceptionally good news for Braxton and the other counties that have joined in the RCECA grant request. All of the agencies have worked diligently to see this project to fruition.
The RCEDA has two years to complete the first Phase of the project, although it’s possible to request an extension if contrators encounter manpower challenges or supply delays.
“And this is just phase one,” Whitley said. “We’re going to keep moving forward to connect more and more West Virginians. This isn’t the end of the story – it’s the very beginning.”
Six of the counties have already completed Phase II applications, including Braxton, that will extend the project and reach even more households. Those counties are investing more than $4 million toward those extensions, which would total more than $16 million. The extension applications should receive responses sometime this year.
A combination of state, federal, local and private sector investments accelerated the project over the past three years. West Virginia Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael said the pandemic highlighted the need for swift and aggressive action to extend high-speed internet across West Virginia. “Broadband is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity for navigating today’s digital world, and the Gig-Ready grant will be the catalyst for universal broadband in West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “We appreciate all the partners who positioned themselves to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.”
CityNet will be the project’s internet service provider (ISP). Customers within 1,000 feet of the fiber will have broadband access.
“I’m proud of the strong partnership our county commissions, economic development authorities, industry professionals and municipal leaders have developed,” Whitley said. “We worked as one team to benefit an entire region. Borders don’t matter so much when we’re talking about a global community. Now’s the time to roll up our sleeves and make West Virginia a part of that community.”