BROOKE COUNTY, W.Va. — As 2022 begins, one major carryover issue for lawmakers and local organizations is the need for greater broadband access in the region.
Tuesday in Brooke County, a possible solution emerged.
The new proposal could bring a main line of fiber optics to the Northern Panhandle stretching from New Martinsville in Wetzel County all the way up through Weirton in Hancock County providing stronger internet to thousands of homes.
"It's been a concept we've been looking at for about the last four years when we started the study process,” Brooke Hancock Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission Executive Director Mike Paprocki said. “We've gone through just the learning process, trying to learn terminology, learning the survey process, public involvement, reaching out to a lot of the households."
A broadband project a longtime in the making is taking small steps forward.
"What we'll call that, the main route, then you can build the main route and the offshoots,” Paprocki said. “That can get into and penetrate more of the neighborhoods."
The five counties of the Northern Panhandle with an opportunity to come together for one regional backbone of fiber optics to improve internet access.
"We started out a couple years ago now trying to bring broadband to Brooke and Hancock counties,” Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas said. “It has now expanded with the infusion of some money from the federal government in the state of West Virginia. “We've now teamed up with RED and Bel-O-Mar, which represents Wetzel, Marshall and Ohio counties."
The line would run from Wetzel County through Hancock County with opportunities for offshoots along the way, including four proposed in Brooke County.
Paprocki said an early estimate of the backbone "main line" would be $9.2 million. When including the off-shot routes the cost would go up.
In all, an estimated 310 unserved households would be given access they currently do not have, while another 1,500 households would gain better service.
The regional broadband proposal bringing more opportunity to grow to those in Northern West Virginia.
"Hopefully, this coming together of local governments is really going to show Charleston that we're committed to bringing broadband to our people and our businesses to make this more attractive to not only live, but work and bring your business here,” Thomas said.
"We are in a prime area of what, so close to Pittsburgh metro area,” Paprocki said. “We're not far from Youngstown, Cleveland area, even Morgantown. I think we're in a prime location to where we could really become a great bedroom community for work from home."
Tuesday was just the initial viewing of the proposal, but Paprocki and Thomas said things will happen quickly with applications for grant funding due Jan. 31.
All five counties will have to be in agreement for the project to move forward.
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