In recent weeks, several rural electric and communications cooperatives have received federal ReConnect funding grants and loans. In December, Tyler and Wetzel Counties in West Virginia learned that they will also benefit from the program. Approximately $5.6 million has been awarded to the region for two projects that will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in some of the state's northern rural areas.
Development Is the Goal
In Wetzel County, the Ohio Valley Industrial and Business Development Corporation will lead the project and the Tyler County Development Authority, Inc., takes the reigns in the adjacent county. In addition to projects within each county, more than 74 miles of fiber will connect the two.
The Wetzel County project will include $2.1 million in ReConnect Program grant funding and use a matching amount to fund the total project, estimated at $4.2 million. The Ohio Valley Industrial and Business Development Corp., intends to connect more than 1,900 households, five educational facilities, a healthcare center and nine additional community facilities.
The Tyler County Development Authority, Inc. (TCDA) plans to use their $1.7 million grant and a ReConnect loan of equal amount to deploy fiber infrastructure throughout the county. They will bring FTTH to almost 1,400 residences, three school facilities, a healthcare center, and five community facilities within a 26 square mile area.
Executive Director Eric Peters of the TCDA discussed the Tyler County project at a recent ceremony, where USDA Rural Utilities Administrator Chad Rupe announced the award:
"The Tyler County Development Authority will own the system's physical infrastructure and will lease it to a private service provider. CityNet was instrumental in providing technical expertise and their background as a successful and experienced service provider was invaluable. We anticipate that CityNet will be our contracted ISP."
Peters highlighted the need for high-quality Internet access for families, businesses, and regional schools. He also noted that local farms and healthcare facilities in the area need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. He acknowledged that the infrastructure to be deployed will be the first step toward better Internet access across the region:
"Even after this new system is in place, we still have plenty of work to do in order to reach more of our county population with reliable broadband service. We consider this ReConnect project to be only the initial step toward making cost-competitive broadband available to more residents of Tyler County. This includes folks residing in areas of the county, which are not at this time, eligible under the ReConnect program. We have not forgotten about you."
Considering the Kids
One of the top concerns driving the project has been the ability for school age kids to access reliable connectivity from home. In preparing for the application process, the counties conducted surveys that indicated poor Internet access both within and beyond town limits.
“The town of Middlebourne, our county seat, lacked reliable Internet service, according to our surveys. They were fortunate to have 1/10th of the bandwidth we're going to be able to provide,” said Eric Peters of the Tyler County Development Authority.
“The fact is, we'll be able to keep our kids here. It will put us on the map, bring us into the digital age,” Tyler County Commissioner Eric Vincent said.
“I think 1,900 homes in Wetzel County this will be life-changing for them, for their businesses, for their schools,” Wetzel County Commissioner Lisa Heasley said.
Northern West Virginia
The counties are located in the north central region of the state with approximately 9,200 people in Tyler County and 17,000 living in Wetzel County. Population in both counties has dropped in recent years and in Tyler County has continued to decline since 1900, when it peaked at more than 18,200 people due to an oil and gas boom. Together, the counties cover about 622 square miles and both touch the border with Ohio.
Local coverage on the announcement: