Alleghenies Broadband Inc. (ABI), in partnership with Huntingdon County and Upward Broadband, celebrated completion of a significant broadband expansion project Wednesday afternoon in Shade Gap.
The ribbon cutting was held in the parking lot of the fire hall, with one of more than a dozen towers now providing wireless broadband internet service on a hill in the background.
ABI project manager Rachel Papuga thanked Huntingdon County Commissioners and Upward Broadband, noting, without them, none of this would have been possible.
“Thanks to the commissioners and their support through nearly $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds, we are here and able to provide high-quality, fixed wireless broadband to more Huntingdon County residents and businesses after a two-year build-out,” Papuga said.
“We were started in 2019 to provide high spend internet in rural areas where broadband wasn’t accessible,” Upward Broadband owner Tim Beiler told the crowd. He explained the fixed wireless internet provider was started in his hometown of Paradise, Lancaster County, to offer a choice, with “a simple vision of providing internet without the hassle.”
Beiler said amidst the pandemic, the Upward Broadband team realized the fastest way to reach more unserved and underserved people in the long-term is to partner with other organizations.
“Huntingdon County and ABI have been progressive and intentional about improving broadband access, and now many people in the county will benefit from their decision,” he said.
Upward Broadband partnered with the county to provide high speed internet to more areas through a new system utilizing 13 existing tower locations.
“Huntingdon County and ABI have been progressive and intentional about improving broadband access, and now many people in the county will benefit from their decision."
“The partnership with nonprofits, ABI and Huntingdon County have allowed this project to be funded and built out, and nearly 2,000 people now have internet access for the first time and thousands more have access to the network,” Beiler announced. “This network expansion will provide service to an estimated 1,800 locations that did not have access to broadband and an additional 8,500 locations that now have another option for an internet provider.”
The Upward Broadband executive added that work is either planned or already underway in yet another phase of the expansion to bring broadband internet service to more areas and more people using ARPA funds and additional money soon to be available from an Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act regional grant.
Huntingdon County Commissioner Jeff Thomas serves as president and chairman of Alleghenies Broadband Inc, a nonprofit organization working to improve internet connectivity in the Southern Alleghenies region of Huntingdon and five other counties.
“Huntingdon County Commissioners have been proactive, starting in 2019, to explore how we can get more and better internet service to our area,” Thomas said, “And with COVID, everyone realized the dire need for broadband service.
"The partnership with nonprofits, ABI and Huntingdon County have allowed this project to be funded and built out, and nearly 2,000 people now have internet access for the first time and thousands more have access to the network."
“We also know that for economic development you need to have broadband accessibility and service” Thomas continued.
State Rep. Rich Irvin compared what’s being done in Huntingdon County to expand and provide broadband internet service to the rural electrification efforts nearly a century ago.
“Such an undertaking in the many areas of Pennsylvania that need these improvements is much too large for us to take on at the state level, so the federal grant funds really helped get this done,” he said.
Irvin also congratulated the commissioners for partnering with ABI and Upward Broadband for working together to make such a large and monumental project happen.
Commissioner Scott Walls spoke to those who aren’t yet served by broadband internet in the county, alluding to millions of dollars coming locally through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Grant award mentioned earlier by Upward Broadband president Beiler.
Walls remembered back to when the commissioners started working on the question of how they could get internet service into unserved areas of the county in 2019 and spoke about what’s in the future.
“We are now planning the next phase of expansion of the service,” Walls said. “We’re going to get to you, it’s a process.”