CARES Act money dedicated to broadband access

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About 1,700 households in northwestern Washington County should have a chance to connect with high-speed internet access through $496,750 allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act block grant.

Once installed to individual homes, the broadband connection will enable more people to work from home and receive educational instruction.

The Washington County commissioners voted unanimously Friday via teleconference to allocate the six-figure amount from the federal CARES Act, which will cover only the labor to install the major communication lines by the end of this year.

Connectivity to individual households that want the service will be completed next year, said Brian Jeffers, chief executive officer of Advanced Telephone Systems Inc., doing business as Hickory Telephone Company Communications, with which the county commissioners entered into a professional services agreement.

“We started today,” Jeffers said Tuesday of the required work.

The six communities included in the professional services agreement approved by Washington County are Burgettstown, Eldersville, Independence, Joffre, Langeloth and Slovan.

The agreement called the six communities “unserved or underserved” by high-speed internet.

“If you look at (a Federal Communications Commission) broadband map, it shows an area as ‘served’ if one house in a census block is served,” Jeffers said.

“That’s what’s being targeted, places that have slipped through the cracks.”

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but rather than stick to places along Route 18, for example, Jeffers plans to have fiber optic lines jogging along rural roads to increase the potential customer base.

“We tried to hit the most number of people who were unserved,” he said.

He called the 1,700 households “a rough estimate.

“Obviously it’s their choice if they want to get a different provider” or not connect at all.

Commissioner Nick Sherman talked with the Washington County Association of Township Officials about two months ago regarding important issues “and this was the big one,” he said of internet connectivity. “It will be much faster than what they have.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck this area in March, commissioners have heard from their constituents who were, for example, unable to participate in Zoom business meetings at home or saw their children’s educational instruction hindered.

The $496,750 will cover the connections to towns, not individual households.

“We’re doing all we can to meet the needs of our children learning remotely,” said commission Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan.


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