$20 million grant awarded to expand regional broadband access
[Originally published in the Huntingdon Daily News, Feb. 26, 2022]
Huntingdon County Commissioners announced Friday that more than $20 million have been awarded to expand wireless broadband access throughout the Southern Alleghenies region.
Approximately half of this funding will be used to construct nine new broadband towers in Huntingdon County, while fitting nine existing towers with updated equipment to expand service. The project proposal estimates that nearly 3,000 new households and businesses in Huntingdon County will be given access to broadband under this expansion.
The $20.4 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awards. They awarded a total of $277 million in grants to only 13 projects across the nation.
The Rural Broadband Infrastructure expansion in the Alleghenies region is a collaboration between the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Upward Broadband, Huntingdon County Commissioners and the Allegheny Broadband Initiative Inc. (ABI). The project will also expand services in Bedford, Fulton, Juniata, Mifflin and Franklin counties. In total, more than 7,000 households and businesses will be included in the expansion.
Huntingdon County Commissioner and ABI Inc. chair Jeff Thomas said he was thrilled to receive the news, and that this project has been a team effort over the many years of hard work it took to reach this goal.
“I can’t say enough, not only of the staff at ABI, which I’m serving as the chair and president, but Brandon Carson, the board of directors up there and their staff is how this happened,” said Thomas.
“The decision to award this grant to the Southern Alleghenies region is fantastic news for the families, farmers and businesses who call this area home. By connecting more than 7,000 households to reliable, high-speed internet, this project will help our region continue to grow and flourish. "
United States Congressman John Joyce released this statement regarding the funding.
“The decision to award this grant to the Southern Alleghenies region is fantastic news for the families, farmers and businesses who call this area home. By connecting more than 7,000 households to reliable, high-speed internet, this project will help our region continue to grow and flourish. I am honored to partner with the NTIA to advocate for our area,” said Joyce.
Commissioners said this will provide vital infrastructure for accessing high speed broadband internet that has become increasingly important in recent years. Internet access has become a necessity for at home education and healthcare along with other services.
“We live in a beautiful area; however, topographically, on the wireless end, it’s been difficult. So, going to this next level allows us to expand it,” said commissioner chair Mark Sather.
Thomas said that the upgraded service will provide 100/mbps download speeds and 20/mbps upload speeds to residents. The existing towers will be outfitted with new equipment relatively soon, thanks to the existing infrastructure. The nine new towers already have designated sites for construction, but it will take some time for the work to be completed.
“You’re looking at more a year, year and a half to construct a tower and get it up and running, but still it’s a huge, huge accomplishment for Huntingdon County,” said Thomas. “I mean, this is something we’ve worked on for years, and to get that kind of money into Huntingdon County is just incredible.”
Thomas said high speed broadband access was identified as the number one priority by the regional comprehensive plan, called Alleghenies Ahead, back in 2015. That resulted in the formation of the Regional Broadband Task Force of SAP&DC along with the 501©(3) organization ABI.
He said this is a huge win for the residents of Huntingdon and the surrounding partner counties as well, but their work will not stop here.
“The commissioners are committed to bringing broadband to every resident eventually. It’s a very difficult thing to do in Huntingdon County due to the topography, but this will be a big step,” said commissioner Scott Walls
The county is also expected to match 10% of the grant which will total approximately $800,000.