The push is on for Monongalia County to lead West Virginia’s charge toward broadband connectivity.
Now, Commission President Ed Hawkins said, the state needs to lend a shoulder.
“I must confess that she was also willing to reach out to those individuals at the state level to come back and communicate with us,” Hawkins said of a recent sit down with representatives from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s office. “We’re hearing from senators and congressmen, but we’re not hearing from Charleston. I expect to hear from Charleston.”
Commissioner Sean Sikora said the commission is in the process of creating a request for proposals from consultants who could, among other things, pinpoint exactly where the county is in terms of connectivity.
“Then they would work with us to develop a cohesive and comprehensive countywide plan to include multiple options, cost estimates, multiple technology options and a phased project implementation plan,” he said.
Sikora said the commission intends to work with Capito’s office to address the hurdles to countywide broadband, including the inaccuracy of Federal Communication Commission maps indicating exactly who has access to coverage.
Cheat Lake resident David Shrewsberry is among those offering feedback. Sikora read a letter from Shrewsberry during the most recent commission meeting.
Shrewsberry said according to the FCC, his neighborhood has access to coverage.
“I just want to point out that when I complain about maps, it’s because I don’t believe they provide an accurate portrayal of who has access to service and who does not,” Shrewsberry said. “At the same time, it illustrates how close some areas are to service, which adds to the frustration.”
Shrewsberry admits there is coverage in the Cheat Lake area, but in broadband, like many things, close doesn’t count.
“Our issues are likely different than those in the western end. As a citizen, I’m encouraged by the fact that we are talking about this and understand that solutions may vary from area to area,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Bloom said he’s encouraged by what he’s hearing from both Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., whereas federal assistance on most issues comes down to finding financing, he said both have committed to working personally to overcome the hurdles that have left much of the county, and the state, in the dark.
Among the ideas being discussed, Bloom said, is a matched grant for households to assist in getting the needed technology in place.
“So say it was $100 needed to buy the piece you need in your house. So that could be like an 80/20 match. The feds would pay 80% and the person would pay 20%. So then it’s a direct impact for all these individuals,” Bloom said. “We’re looking at all these ideas. We just want everyone connected. That’s the goal.”