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Preston Commission earmarks $1.7M for broadband expansion

KINGWOOD — Should a Preston County ISP be awarded a pair of broadband improvement grants funding 11 projects with a cost of about $10.3 million, the required matching funds — about $1.7 million — will be there.

The Preston County Commission voted unanimously to earmark the money using some of the roughly $3.2 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds the county has received so far to provide the match, should Prodigi be awarded either or both grants.

President and co-owner of Prodigi Tim Wotring came before the commission to ask for the funds, about $800,00 per project, at the commission’s regular meeting Tuesday. He explained a couple of weeks ago, the state released details on the Line Extension Advancement and Development grant to extend 100/100 Mbps internet service along the lines of existing providers.

Wotring said Prodigi has invested a significant amount of money in expanding fiber in Preston County and so has the Preston County Economic Development Authority, which has used its land as collateral for previous matching funds requirements.

“I’m just gonna be real and honest, without the support that we’re here for today we’re not in a position that we can go after these funds,” Wotring said.

The deadline for the first round of applications is Nov. 30 and if the money’s gone after that initial round, it’s gone, Preston EDA Executive Director Robeta Baylor said. She said the grant was a great opportunity and Preston County was lucky to have a local ISP — something many counties lack. 

“The programs were designed knowing that counties were sitting on ARPA funds and assuming that the counties might be interested in extending the ARPA funds that they have toward broadband infrastructure, because we know it’s so needed,” Baylor said. 

She said the EDA has been in talks with the state, which wanted to see multiple applications from Preston County. The EDA will hold the money and is experienced at working with Prodigi to make payments and get reimbursements.

Each LEAD project is capped at $5 million, which is why the company is submitting two applications, Wotring said.

The first application is worth about $5.6 million across six projects, coming from $4.7 million in grant funds and about $880,000 in matching funds. The projects include 86.4 miles of fiber in West/South Kingwood, Central Kingwood, Bruceton Mills Area, East Kingwood and Terra Alta, W.Va. 7 to Reedsville, and Reedsville to Bretz, according to a handout provided by Wotring.

Those projects will reach 1,765 total structures and 1,225 targeted structures. Targeted structures are designated by the state as underserved or unserved by internet access. 

The second application is for about $3.9 million in grant funds with $800,000 in matching, according to the handout. It covers 54.8 miles across five projects — Masontown, Masontown to County Line, Reedsville/Kingwood Pike, Arthurdale and Arthurdale Outskirts. The projects cover 1,607 structures and 1,455 targeted structures.

Wotring said both applications were a great bang for the buck — the first being a 15.7% match the second a 17% match. By way of comparison, a different state broadband program is seeking a 25% match.

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