Commissioners OK grant process

[Originally published in the Huntingdon Daily News on June 23, 2021]


Huntingdon County Commissioners approved beginning the application process for a grant that, if received, has the potential to vastly expand broadband coverage in the county.


Brandon Carson, of the Alleghenies Broadband Inc., explained this grant, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) grant, has $288 million in grant funding available for entities that wish to expand broadband coverage in the U.S.

That could mean up to $5-$30 million could be available to potential providers in the U.S.


However, that means a private provider would have to team up with a government entity to receive this funding.


“We’re looking to construct 12 new towers with this funding,” said Carson, noting they hope to team up with Upwards Broadband of Lancaster County, which already provides broadband internet services in the southern portions of Huntingdon County as well as parts of Fulton County.


Carson also explained another caveat that would make entities that apply look more favorable — a 10% cost share from a government agency.


“Right now, it would look like it would cost $250,000 per tower, plus $100,000 to offer the services,” he said. “If you figure the costs, it would be for about $4.2 million. A cost-sharing option from the county would mean a buy-in of $420,000.”


Carson also noted this has a potential to be a multi-county project, as they could potentially put nine new towers in Fulton County, and if cost-sharing is involved, Fulton County would have to pay 10% of total costs as well.


County commissioner Jeff Thomas noted that if they agree to go through this application process, the legwork would begin to find $420,000 for the county’s contribution.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.


Commissioner Scott Walls asked who would own the towers as well as maintain the towers.


Carson explained they hope to negotiate this, but he envisions a deal where Alleghenies Broadband Inc. would own the towers, and Upwards Broadband would be given rights to maintain them.


Walls also expressed concerns about guarantees that coverage would go to as many people in the county as possible.


Carson shared with commissioners a map that shows current broadband coverage, and this potential expansion could dramatically expand coverage; however, since this is wireless and requires a home to be in a line of site to a tower, not every single area would be covered.


However, it would be a dramatic advancement.


Commissioner Mark Sather asked solicitor Larry Newton what legal obligations would the county have in agreeing to apply — specifically, are they on the hook for the 10% buy-in at this time.


“Just by submitting an application, you’re not required to come up with any funds,” said Newton.


Carson also noted this grant application has to be submitted by Aug. 17; however, he believes the process will be competitive. He didn’t have a timeline on when the county would find out if they were awarded.


This news is also coming in tandem with requests for proposals from internet companies to use existing towers to also expand broadband internet; these are due July 7.


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