MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Monongalia County Commission is re-evaluating its options after learning it cannot use federal earmark funding to expand broadband.
Commissioners had sought federal funds to increase services, but such projects are not qualified for the funding. The search for another funding source comes less than a year after commissioners approved a $250,657 contract with Ice Miller Whiteboard to develop a comprehensive broadband expansion plan.
Commissioner Sean Sikora told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM the commission agreed to prioritize broadband expansion because families, students and at-home workers struggled to complete online tasks during the coronavirus pandemic because of poor services. The commission previously approved utilizing coronavirus relief funds for the effort.
“We have about $10 million in local ARP [American Rescue Plan] money set aside for broadband deployment,” he said. “As we go along, we want to try to keep our cash close to the vest as we utilize these other opportunities.”
Sikora acknowledged related consultant work in determining the grant was not possible early enough to redirect the effort. He added the commission wanted the plan completed in pieces.
“This is what we envisioned when we came up with a comprehensive plan so we can have actionable packets that as these opportunities come out we can slap them on a grant request and get funding for individual parts of our project,” he said.
Sikora said he remains hopeful broadband expansion can happen this summer.
“If we really show how this can work, then I think that’s going to exponentially increase the moving forward on all the other rings throughout the county,” he said.