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ARPA funds to expand Blair Co. broadband

Retrofit of existing towers with modern equipment celebrated



WILLIAMSBURG — More than 800 homes across three townships in southern Blair County will be connected to middle-mile fiber by 2026 as part of a nearly $2.5 million American Rescue Plan project, representatives with Allegheny Broadband Inc. and Crowsnest Broadband announced Friday afternoon.


The federal government allotted $200 million in ARPA money to go to Pennsylvania, said Dwayne Zimmerman, owner and founder of Crowsnest. The state then took applications from fiber and fixed wireless providers for various projects.


(From left): Larry Myers of Alleghenies Broadband Inc., Blair County Commissioner Laura Burke, Crowsnest owner and founder Dwayne Zimmerman, ABI president and chairman of ABI Jeff Thomas, ABCD Corp. president and CEO Stephen McKnight and ABI project coordinator Dustin Bishop come together Friday in Williamsburg to celebrate the recently announced broadband expansion.

ABI and Crowsnest partnered and submitted an application for a project that would run “fiber to the home” in Houston, Juniata and North Woodbury townships, Zimmerman said.


“It’ll be close to a $2.5 million project bringing middle-mile fiber to three of our towers and should connect around 800 to 850 homes,” Zimmerman said. “Blair County committed match dollars to that project as well.”


Middle-mile infrastructure is any broadband infrastructure that does not connect directly to an end-user location, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.


Jeff Thomas, president and chairman of ABI, highlighted the completion of a separate but related broadband project that had also been funded by ARPA money.


“The Blair County commissioners were kind enough to put up over a little over $300,000 in ARPA funds,” Thomas said. “And those funds helped fit up non-existent tower sites, which two of them are fiber-fed.”


The nine towers retrofitted with new equipment are in Rose Hill, Curryville, Cove Lane, Fredericksburg, Luke Mountain, Williamsburg, Horseshoe Curve, Kettle Road and Eldorado, Thomas said.


“The Blair County commissioners were kind enough to put up over a little over $300,000 in ARPA funds. And those funds helped fit up non-existent tower sites, which two of them are fiber-fed.”

Zimmerman explained this was done by leasing space, giving an old 911 communications tower that stands in Williamsburg but is owned by Blair County as an example.


“It sat empty for the last 10 years, so we did a lease with them,” Zimmerman said. “We installed our equipment on that tower and now that tower is being put to use for the community and the county is collecting rent from us for that. So it’s a win-win.”


Zimmerman added that, while it was originally planned for nine towers to be improved throughout the project, “it actually impacted more like double that — around 18 or 20 towers.”


“Basically the money that we invested into the nine core towers, we were then able to take that bandwidth and extend it out to additional towers,” Zimmerman said. “We own the bandwidth capabilities so that we could sell faster plans throughout the county.”


“We’re seeing the real effects. We’re seeing people being able to do their telemedicine, people being able to do their remote work and remote education in places where they couldn’t before. So these are great projects and we’re just really thankful to have these great partnerships to help make them happen.”

A big challenge for broadband in an area like Blair County is that it “has many hollows and valleys and ridges and hills” and “it is a line-of-sight service” so that customers have to live where they can see a tower to get service, Zimmerman said. To combat that, broadband equipment is “on probably 40 different silos now in the agricultural communities.”


“Generally, what we do for the farmers in the agriculture communities, we give them free service in exchange for being able to install our equipment on their silos,” Zimmerman said. “So, they get free high-speed internet and they get to help all their neighbors. It works really well.”


Blair County Commissioner Laura Burke agreed, saying that the broadband projects are a great example of “where we see the American Rescue Plan dollars really making a difference in our communities.”


“We’re seeing the real effects,” Burke said. “We’re seeing people being able to do their telemedicine, people being able to do their remote work and remote education in places where they couldn’t before. So these are great projects and we’re just really thankful to have these great partnerships to help make them happen.”

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