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Nonprofit launches bid for broadband expansion

Group looks to local governments to share COVID relief funding

A nonprofit organization affiliated with the six-county Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission wants to partner with municipalities, counties and school districts in the region to upgrade internet service in areas where it’s not up to par — taking advantage of the massive funding being provided by the recently approved American Rescue Plan.

Alleghenies Broadband Inc. is hoping to convince those local governments to share some of their ARP funding to pay for fiber-optic lines, cell towers and other equipment needed to upgrade internet service where it’s non-existent, spotty or slow — places where private providers haven’t invested, due lack of expected returns, ABI board member Jim Foreman said at a Logan Township supervisors meeting Thursday.

The organization would lease that infrastructure to private internet services, so residents and businesses in areas that are underserved due to low population density or terrain issues can have the kind of access that became more obviously necessary for commercial development, workforce participation and education during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Alleghenies Broadband Inc.

The organization hopes to convince municipalities of the general and long-term value of such access for everyone, which could help convince the local governments that it will be most productive to pool resources, and not necessarily limit contributions to benefit only their own constituents, said Foreman and ABI Executive Director Brandon Carson, who is on loan from Southern Alleghenies.

“We’re looking for providers that exist in areas where they’d like to go, but need a subsidy to go,” said Foreman, who is chairman of the Blair County Republican Committee.

Foreman suggested that Logan contribute 15% of its ARP share, which is $1.2 million.

Altoona is receiving $39 million from the ARP.

The Logan supervisors made no commitment.

There are areas of inadequate internet service in the township, according to Carson, but it wasn’t clear how many properties that includes, he said.

He would provide an explanatory map, he said.

He provided such a map to the Mirror on Thursday evening, and it showed large splotches of unserved and underserved areas — although it wasn’t entirely clear which were in populated areas.

The Board of Supervisors is a conservative group, and will “move forward with caution,” said Chairman Jim Patterson.

“We’re trying to protect our interests,” he said.

The supervisors will also ask solicitor Dan Stants to check out whether complying to ABI’s request conforms with spending guidelines in the American Rescue Plan, while examining any other issues involved — including a potential funding agreement, he said.

Still, “it sounds like a great idea,” Patterson said.

“Alleghenies Broadband is committed to developing public-private partnerships that will ensure reliable, high-speed internet access in areas currently lacking connectivity,” Carson wrote in an email Thursday evening. “The funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 presents an enormous opportunity for municipalities, counties, and school districts to collaborate and partner with ABI to ensure that our residents and businesses have the access they need.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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