Brooke County Commissioners Tuesday voiced support for a regional effort to extend high-speed Internet service to Brooke and four other counties.
Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, asked the commissioners to consider joining BHJ, the Belmont-Ohio-Marshall Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Regional Economic Development Partnership, which represents Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties, in seeking state funds to extend fiberoptic main Internet lines from Wetzel County north.
Paprocki said BHJ is poised to join the other two development agencies in applying for a portion of $40 million available through the state’s GigReady program.
Overseen by the state Department of Economic Development and state Broadband Council, the program is aimed at providing federal pandemic relief funds allocated to local government entities hoping to pool their own relief funds to extend Internet service to their communities.
Paprocki said officials in Hancock and the other counties will be asked to take part as well.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Commission President A.J. Thomas confirmed the commission hasn’t earmarked $4.25 million in relief funds allocated for the county for water, sewer and internet. But he and the other commissioners voiced support for the application, which is due Jan. 30.
Commissioner Tim Ennis said state Economic Development Director Mitch Carmichael was impressed that officials from Brooke and Hancock counties jointly commissioned an internet feasibility study overseen by BHJ.
He said he believes Carmichael would be very pleased to see five counties working together.
Paprocki said if the five counties take part, it would result in a scenario in which “We’re all pulling on a rope and moving in the same direction to get this done.”
Thomas said through the application, Brooke County would seek between $400,000, to construct a main line referred to as a backbone by Paprocki and others, and $750,000, to extend lines to three areas where a strong need and desire for high-speed Internet service was found.
Paprocki said the areas include the Bethany-Washington Pike area, the Archer Heights-Morton Road area and the Harmon Creek-downtown Weirton area.
He said the intention is for the main line to reach key areas of employment of potential development, such as Bethany College, West Liberty University, Weirton Medical Center and former Weirton Steel property owned by the Frontier Group of Companies.
Adrienne Ward, office manager for BHJ, said the extension of a main line will make it more feasible for unserved or underserved areas to receive high-speed Internet in the future.
Ward and Mark Henne, senior transportation planner for BHJ, oversaw the joint Brooke-Hancock Internet study, soliciting input from leaders of industry, business and emergency departments, as well as the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.