County Commissioner Deb Baughman enlisted several key players in the county’s broadband initiative to speak on the progress at the County Commissioner’s meeting Tuesday morning.
First to the podium was Alleghenies Broadband Interim Executive Director Jeff Reel, who called the attempt to bring high speed internet to a six-county region a “worthy endeavor.” The initiative was a result of a 10-year plan that showed a need for such service in Cambria, Huntingdon, Somerset, Bedford, Blair, and Fulton Counties.
“We already have $25 million coming in to the six counties,” Reel said, as he walked the audience through many of the funding sources that include federal grant monies, as well as county resources.
The first tier includes outfitting existing cell towers with new equipment, a relatively quick way to begin providing service. Thus far, 20 out of 21 of those projects are complete.
Dwayne Zimmerman, owner of Crowsnest Broadband, the internet service provider that is tackling the project, said, “If you live where you can see a tower, chances are we can get you internet service.” But Zimmerman said in some areas, equipment is mounted on silos or tall buildings, so just because a tower doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean broadband isn’t available.
Tier two, according to Reel, is the building of towers, which he explained is a longer, more expensive project that includes land acquisitions, feasibility studies, and construction. Baughman said the southeast portion of the county is most in need, and currently 18 property owners have been approached about placing towers on their land.
“We are in the process of getting ready to survey those properties,” Baughman added.
Bedford received a $5 million grant, of which the county had to match $560,000, to create 10 new towers.
“We will own those towers,” Reel said. They are expected to be finished in 2025.
The third tier involves the use of fiber optic cable in all six counties, according to Reel.
“The gold standard is going to be fiber to the home,” he explained.
There is currently a survey on the Bedford County website to try to figure out where service is lacking.
“We need community involvement,” Reel said. “We need to find out where in Bedford County we’re missing.”