Friday, March 18, 2011

As isolated rural community celebrates broadband success, others fear funding sources will dry up

Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks Telephone Cooperative, with an average 2.5 customers per square mile, could be the first telephone cooperative to provide fiber-to-the-home broadband to “one of the most sparsely populated areas of West Virginia” if federal funding is not reallocated, reports Miranda Kessel for the Daily Yonder.

In 2008, the co-op received a $7.7 million loan from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service to update its copper-line telephone system the latest fiber-to-the home broadband technology. It got another $8.5 million was in 2010 as a part of the Broadband Initiatives Program, to “expand their (SKSRTC) customer base in surrounding rural communities, including Green Bank”, reports Kessel, a West Virginia University graduate student. (Read more)

Vickie Colaw, the co-op's eneral manager, credits the project to subsidies form the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes rural phone service. The Federal Communications Commisison wants to restructure the program to give more help for broadband, but the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association fears that will penalize rural phone co-ops that have made a strong commitment to broadband delivery, like Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks. For background on that debate, go here.

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