2017-09-27 / Front Page

Commission to seek grant to plan county-wide broadband service

by Kate Shunney

The Morgan County Commissioners voted 3-0 last Wednesday to pursue a $75,000 planning grant from the Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program to plan for county-wide broadband internet service.

At the September 20 county meeting, commissioners also set a public hearing for Wednesday, October 4 at 1 p.m. in the County Commission meeting room in order to get comments from citizens about the issue of broadband and the grant process.

The date for a second public hearing, required by the grant, has not been set yet.

Commissioner Bob Ford is spearheading the grant effort, and said a recent meeting at Stonewall Resort led him to believe the State of West Virginia’s Development Office will help Morgan County make broadband internet available across the county.

Ford said two models for broadband access were discussed at the statewide meeting: a public/private partnership to spread the service or a public entity that would oversee the electronic utility.


A map prepared by the state’s new Broadband Enhancement Council shows broadband internet coverage around the state. Roughly half of Morgan County has access to internet service that meets the federal speed requirements for broadband service. A map prepared by the state’s new Broadband Enhancement Council shows broadband internet coverage around the state. Roughly half of Morgan County has access to internet service that meets the federal speed requirements for broadband service. According to Ford, a consultant who is working with McDowell County to create broadband coverage there was scheduled to come to Morgan County this Tuesday to talk about the grant, which will be submitted by October 31. Ford said the planning grant would provide more information about the county’s options.

“Hopefully once that’s completed, we would have an idea of how much it costs,” said Ford.

Stephanie Allemong, the county’s grant coordinator, said the grant doesn’t require a cash match from the county.

County officials also adopted a “Citizen Participation Plan” that spells out how local residents can and must be included in the grant process. Those steps include scheduling public meetings “at times and locations which permit participation,” making grant information available to the public and notifying the public of meetings about the grant.

Ford said the county would assemble a committee of people to work on the grant and broadband issues.

Morgan County had such a committee for many years, headed up by Jerry Berman, an expert in internet policy and issues. Berman and that committee made a countywide survey of cell phone and internet service and pressed local providers to improve coverage and speeds locally.

Ford said the grant funding through the Development Office is from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency’s block grant program. State CBDG grants are usually for housing, public water and sewer projects.

State officials have said they plan to dedicate $700,000 of roughly $12.3 million in federal block grant funds to broadband development in the 2017 fiscal year.

“Internet and broadband will be seen now as a utility project,” said Ford. Commissioner Ken Reed said broadband internet is a vital service for any county.

“It’s my goal that everyone in this county will have broadband within two years,” Ford said. “The infrastructure we’ve got should be able to get broadband across the county.”

County officials said information about the broadband grant will be posted on the county government website prior to the October 4 public hearing.

In response to questions from The Morgan Messenger, commissioner said a second public hearing could be held during evening hours in order to allow more citizens to attend.

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