Tyler County to seek grant for broadband

SISTERSVILLE — The Tyler County Development Authority and the Tyler County Commission will apply for a grant to connect 1,100 homes in the county to broadband internet.

Eric Peters, executive director of the authority, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will cover half of the just over $3.1 million price tag of the project. The federal government will provide a loan to cover the other half, he said.

“We think we have a strong application,” he said.

He said the project will install 74 miles of fiber optic cable along West Virginia 18 from just east of Sistersville to the Doddridge County border.

“They’ll be a lot of commercial facilities that will be able to have broadband where they didn’t have it before, as well as one medical facility and four schools,” he said.

Like electricity and water, Peters said high-speed internet has become a utility that new businesses need in order to succeed.

“If you don’t have it, you don’t have new development,” he said. “It’s not a matter of people playing online games, this is a serious infrastructure project.”

As part of the grant application, potential customers along the proposed fiber optic cable path were polled to see if whether they would use the service.

“It’s been received very well…better than I could have imagined,” he said. “It shows that (broadband internet) is a need and desire.”

He said the Tyler County seat is still living without any modern media or communication systems in place, and that the installation of broadband internet would bring the county into the 21st century economy.

“There’s no broadband or cable TV in Middlebourne and really only spotty cell phone service,” he said.

He said the lack of internet service not only drives business out of Tyler County, but new residents as well. With Parkersburg and Marietta within commuting distance of the county, Peters said people moving to the area for work would rather live in those communities that have all the utilities they have become accustomed to.

Even though he is optimistic about receiving the grant, Peters said on the off-chance it doesn’t get approved this cycle, the development authority and the county commission will continue efforts to get a grant in the future.

“It’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “If we don’t get it this round we have to keep moving on it.”