LISBON — County commissioners are using the last of their federal COVID-19 aid to bring reliable high-speed wireless internet to areas having trouble receiving broadband service.
Commissioners voted Wednesday to use $1.46 million in CARES Act funding to purchase 100 LTE units to be placed on 25 existing towers and poles around the county leased or owned by RAA Data Services, a local wireless internet provider with 2,500 customers in the county.
RAA will attach LTE units to its poles and towers and will be able to provide broadband service within a three-mile radius, regardless of terrain. LTE technology is what smart phones use to connect to the internet.
“People in valleys who’ve been unable to get internet will be able to get it, with a good signal,” said Commissioner Tim Weigle. “It’s a way to get internet to areas that are not served.”
The hilly terrain that exists in much of the county makes it difficult if not impossible for many households in those areas to receive reliable high-speed wireless internet. As more and more students are learning online from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, getting them reliable internet service has become imperative.
“I think of all the projects we’ve been involved in with this COVID (aid) I don’t think there’s been one I’ve found to be more worthy and important than this internet (project) … I also know it couldn’t come at a better time, considering many of our young people are going to school at home on a computer,” said Commissioner Mike Halleck.
Most wireless internet service requires an unobstructed line of sight from the pole or tower, which is nearly impossible for households in narrow valleys and hollows that populate the county. Weigle said LTE technology will allow signals to be transmitted to any area, regardless of the topography.
Once in place, households seeking LTE internet service would sign up with RAA at a cost of $100 for equipment and installation and $40 per month for a basic plan. RAA’s existing customers would benefit from the upgrade, and Weigle said they expect to reach another 4,000 to 5,000 households and businesses in the county and western Pennsylvania.
“I realize that won’t happen overnight, but I’m hoping people will be interested,” he said.
The project has to be completed by Dec. 31 because that is the deadline for spending any federal Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security Act received by local governments. The CARES Act was passed in April by Congress to help federal, state and local governments, businesses and citizens impacted by the fallout from COVID-19.
Weigle said RAA has three crews ready to start by the end of the month attaching the LTE units to the towers and poles, with each crew able to finish one tower/pole per day, weather permitting.
Weigle said RAA’s Scott Dunn contacted commissioners with the idea two weeks ago after Elkrun Township trustees hired him to provide LTE internet service to the township, with the trustees using $229,000 in CARES funding. The Elkrun project will be incorporated into RAA’s countywide plan being undertaken by commissioners.
The county will continue to own the LTE units for now, with RAA responsible for installation, repairs, replacement and software upgrades. Weigle said they will re-evaluate the partnership later but the project had to be approved by Nov. 20, which is why some of the details will be worked out later.
“We wanted to get this up and running as soon as possible and not delay the project” and miss the deadline, he said.
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