High-speed internet coming to Scenery Hill | Local News

The decision to expand high-speed internet to Scenery Hill brought excitement to residents and business owners who believe the service will help them improve their little town along Route 40.

The Washington County commissioners during their Thursday voting meeting unanimously approved a contract with DQE Communications of Pittsburgh to extend broadband internet service to 97 houses and five businesses in the village in the heart of North Bethlehem Township.

The contract will allow for 1.3 miles of broadband wiring to be installed at a cost of $188,528, although the county will only have to pay $35,528 using American Rescue Play Act federal stimulus money, with DQE picking up the remaining costs. The plan is a part of Washington County’s overall effort to expand high-speed internet to underserved communities in which service is slow or unreliable.

“There’s a lot of younger families that have moved to that area,” North Bethlehem Supervisor James Dudt said of Scenery Hill. “As we see people move to more rural areas post-pandemic, they’re looking for affordable housing and looking to move out of the city. One of the complaints is that they can’t access (broadband internet). This is a game changer.”

It’s also an opportunity to boost Scenery Hill’s business community and help to make it a tourism destination for travelers along the historic National Road. Dudt singled out the popular Century Inn restaurant and how it could someday host business conferences with the help of broadband services that could allow for online seminars or remote guests.

“Families’ lives change when they get high-speed internet,” Dudt said. “From an e-commerce perspective, to do business and attract other businesses, this is no longer a limiting factor. You can’t start a business if you don’t have good internet.”

That was welcome news for April Harrington, whose family owns the Century Inn. While the business does have internet, the slow speed sometimes interferes with their point of sales system and when they need to communicate with customers through email.

“Without high-speed internet, these things don’t always operate properly, and if they don’t operate properly, then we don’t have a functioning business,” she said.

The restaurant hosts numerous parties and wedding receptions, so Harrington thinks another benefit will be to offer video conferencing for relatives in other cities to participate if they can’t attend in person. But she also thinks having high-speed internet will benefit residents who want to work remotely from home and businesses that are trying to make Scenery Hill a destination for travelers.

“I’m a little bit surprised. I kind of thought we were forgotten about, but I’m thrilled about it,” Harrington said. “The community is working hard to bring Scenery Hill back to where it used to be as a destination.”

DQE Director of Sales Joe McGuinness said the company already has a fiber network nearby so expanding to Scenery Hill could be done relatively easily and inexpensively.

“After doing research, we discovered this to be an underserved area,” McGuinness said in a written statement. “This area made sense to assess as a potential broadband expansion. We could save money on construction by utilizing existing fiber plant and pole attachment rights.”

That’s also what made it attractive for county officials as they make an effort to expand broadband internet with the help of federal stimulus money. The county recently completed a similar project to connect high-speed internet to portions of Jefferson Township near Avella as part of a pilot program. In a joint press release issued after their meeting Thursday, the county commissioners said this was a low-cost project that they hope to be able to apply to other areas as part of the broadband initiative.

The Washington County Authority is in charge of the program and is putting out requests for proposal in other parts of the county. The response so far from private companies looking to expand services in rural areas has been encouraging and more projects will be approved in the coming months, authority Executive Director John Timney said.

“We are beyond thrilled for this level of attention,” Timney said.

It was not known when installation on the Scenery Hill expansion project would begin or be completed.

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