SCHELLSBURG — Local officials and partners involved in a broadband project two years in the making celebrated its completion on Friday morning at an event held at Shawnee State Park.
In a wide-ranging initiative designed to equip more Bedford County residents with either better internet access, or any at all, it was announced that Phase 1 has reached its conclusion.
Phase 1 of the project included 21 upgraded towers that has allowed nearly 4,000 more households within the county to start receiving broadband availability.
“Our mission is to better serve the unserved,” Alleghenies Broadband (ABI) vice chairman Gerald Walker said. “It’s been quite an undertaking.”
Bedford County Commissioner Deb Baughman has long made improved broadband capability a goal of hers while in office. The commissioners, along with ABI, Lehman Engineers, Mission Critical Partners, and Crowsnest Broadband are joined in the effort. Bedford County is one of six regional counties that ABI assists for broadband access.
“It takes a team — it’s a heavy lift,” Baughman said. “If it was easy to develop rural broadband, it would already be done. We’re proud to be partners with ABI, and fortunately, we have a lot of help.”
Phase 1 of the county’s broadband initiative goes back to June, 2021, using money allocated for internet service from the American Rescue Plan Act and previous to that, the CARES Act.
“It takes a team — it’s a heavy lift. If it was easy to develop rural broadband, it would already be done. We’re proud to be partners with ABI, and fortunately, we have a lot of help.”
In Bedford County’s instance, Crowsnest owner Dwayne Zimmerman says his company immediately wanted to be a part in the project.
Zimmerman’s interest had come before the pandemic, with what he called an “organic” expansion plan to develop better broadband within the county despite its rural challenges.
Currently, fixed wireless and towers are what Zimmerman uses. Fiber optic lines provide for much quicker internet speeds. Fiber optics capability is next in line in a lot of cases, with federal broadband money providing much of the cost. Last month, it was announced that Pennsylvania will receive $1.2 billion in dollars of those federal earmarks for new and improved broadband.
“We’re talking about many places where there’s only five or six homes per mile,” Zimmerman said. “The costs for fiber optics can be high on that per home, maybe $7,500 or more, and a return investment on that is probably impossible for a company such as ours. That cost is why some of the other (providers) haven’t done it yet.”
With Phase 1 done, officials are looking ahead to Phase 2’s plan that shows another nine towers, and outfitting another existing one in becoming online, which are expected to encompass several areas of the county.
“The nice thing about these nine towers is we can pick and choose locations with the most line of sight buildings and the most hard to reach areas,” Zimmerman said. “I think the reach of these towers is going to be as big or close to what we’ve done with the 21 towers already.”
The nine towers are still in the early stages of planning.
Baughman lauded Zimmerman’s work to date, and also pointed out that residents or businesses who are in need of improved internet should frequently look into Crowsnest’s capability as their service area is positively changing from week to week.