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Mid-Ohio Valley counties part of broadband expansion effort

ARNOLDSBURG — Calhoun, Jackson and Roane counties are included in a seven-county initiative to further expand broadband to rural communities around the state.

The Roane and Jackson County Economic Development Authority partnered with CityNet for the $22 million project and individual counties will use funds through the American Rescue Plan Act to supplement and expand the coverage even further.

Other counties included in the project are Clay, Braxton, Gilmer and Webster and phase one of the project includes the installation of service to a 283-mile range.

The project is part of the statewide GigReady initiative that is part of the West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan. People with Gigready will help counties in two phases: Phase one involves reviewing a project and selecting private partners and vendors; after that is completed, phase two includes help with funding, according to the state’s broadband website.

“We started about two years ago and applied for USDA re-connect. We didn’t get selected but (Mitch Carmichael, West Virginia economic director) encouraged us to apply for the opportunities that could be coming,” Mark Whitley, Jackson and Roane EDA director, said.

Roane County was able to come up with the funds to cover the required 25 percent match of the $22 million which will go toward building of the “backbone,” the 283-mile range.

If counties need coverage beyond the backbone area, money will come from county dollars.

“In order to reach portions of the population, we’re going to ask the counties to support our initiative to go after the last mile initiative, trying to get the most subscribers to get internet,” Whitley said. “We believe all of the county commissions are going to participate to some degree. The Roane County EDA is guaranteeing the 25 percent match. We have the financial ability in conjunction with our partner, CityNet.”

Calhoun County Commissioner Kevin Helmick said the county will contribute $500,000 for the initiative.

“It will be major for our county so people can work from home. It’s coming south on (Route) 16 from Arnoldsburg. (The EDA) engineering team is going to come to the commission on their suggestion as to the routes that we can get the most money for,” he said. “It looked to me like we were able to fund about one-third of what (there) needed to be and that’s great.”

Helmick said broadband is a top priority for the commission and he hopes it is able to commit more funding through the year toward the project.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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