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Comcast, Frontier respond to county’s broadband request

MORGANTOWN — The two major players in county internet service — Comcast and Frontier — were the two respondents to the Monongalia County Commission’s request for broadband connectivity proposals. 

Wednesday marked the deadline for Internet Service Providers to get their ideas to the county.  

The commission is looking to leverage two years of extensive groundwork and more than $8 million through the American Rescue Plan Act to get broadband into as much of Monongalia County as possible. 

Commissioner Sean Sikora is leading the commission’s broadband efforts. He said he’s confident one or both of the proposals include more than one project. 

“The way we put it out there, someone could bid on the whole county; someone could bid on individual rings or make up their own project or multiple projects,” he said. “It’s really wide open. I’m interested in starting to tear through these and see how we can connect our citizens.” 

“Rings” is a reference to the county’s comprehensive strategic broadband study and plan, which divided in the county into 15 rings, or broadband projects.  

It was initially thought the county could take this plan and its ARPA dollars to bring in grants that would allow it to build the infrastructure from which ISPs could connect to homes and businesses. 

However, the scattershot nature in which billions in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) dollars are being deployed prompted the county to instead open itself up, make its data available and act as a partner to interested ISPs.

The county already has advanced engineering for Ring 11, a largely unserved vertical strip across western Monongalia County previously identified as the area of most pressing need. 

The RFP states the county is looking foremost for projects that can connect areas currently with little to no service. 

“We wrote the RFP like it’s a partnership with the county. So, part of this will be looking at what they expect from the county’s part of that partnership,” Sikora said. “We expect there is some cost sharing that will be proposed as part of this. That’s where we were going to bring our broadband dollars to bear.” 

The county’s 10-person broadband review team meets Friday to begin breaking down the proposals. 

The commission anticipates proposal selection will be complete by Jan. 19. 

In other county news, the commission finalized the Morgantown Utility Board’s acquisition of the Cheat View Public Service District. 

The district reached out to MUB after two of its longtime leaders, Glenn Staddon and Allen Colebank, died in 2023. 

The acquisition will not impact rate payers. 

MUB General Manager Mike McNulty said the merger represents the natural next step in a relationship that stretches back more than 20 years. 

“We already do the billing, collecting, meter reading. We did a lot of maintenance out in the service territory, and 80% of those customers are already our customers. They’re our wastewater customers. So, this is a great opportunity for everyone,” he said.