Commission approached concerning broadband

NEW CUMBERLAND — An area of Hancock County that has trouble with obtaining broadband internet service may be getting help from state and county officials.

During Thursday’s Hancock County Commission meeting, Mark DeBruyn, a representative of the West Virginia Office of Technology, addressed the commission about one particular area he said is in need of broadband internet services, but is unable to obtain access.

DeBruyn told the commission his role is to receive any complaints from residents that come into the governor’s office related to technology. He added that, since Gov. Jim Justice took office last year, a priority for the office was to act on these complaints rather than simply listen to them.

This, according to DeBruyn, is why he was in Hancock County, as complaints have been received from residents outside city limits concerning internet service.

“One of the problems with that is that it’s not financially feasible for a provider of internet services to build out into some of these areas because they will never see that money come back in,” DeBruyn said. “You just can’t expect these people to put it out without some reasonable expectation of getting some return.”

One location DeBruyn pointed out was the top of the hill in New Manchester, east of New Cumberland.

He said one company he spoke with was not interested in expanding at the time, but another company, Agile Networks, which provides a fixed wireless system — sending internet via radio frequencies — was able to consider DeBruyn’s request.

After some discussions, the company informed DeBruyn it would be able to bring in its broadband, which has download speeds at 25 megabytes per second with a 4 MB upload — as long as the Commission would agree to handle a public-private partnership.

“With this system in place, these citizens would be able to get this at a reduced cost if we can work a public-private partnership,” DeBruyn said. “I found this to be the case, and I’ve done this in several other counties in West Virginia, and it’s been successful to this date.”

Ultimately, DeBruyn asked commissioners to provide seed money so residents can begin to receive the internet at a more affordable price than what is being asked, which is $75 monthly for the high-speed service and a one-time $150 installation charge.

Furthermore, the installation fee would be waived if the neighborhood had at least 28 residents interested in the service, thus providing 28 free installations.

“If we can get them seed money of $5,000, they can do the 28 installations for free, and then instead of their normal fee of $75 per month, they have brought that down to $52 a month,” DeBruyn said.

In a separate matter, DeBruyn said he also is looking to work with the state Department of Natural Resources to work on high-speed broadband access for campers at Tomlinson Run State Park.

In the meantime, commissioners would like to see how much of a positive response they receive on the internet issue, and will decide later whether to provide consent for the project.

(Rappach can be contacted at srappach@reviewonline.com)

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