By Jim Cooper, Editor Times Record-Roane County Reporter

A committee working toward bringing broadband to a three-coun-ty area has taken a step toward that goal.

The CCR Broadband Development Committee, a collaborative effort of Calhoun, Clay and Roane counties, has chosen a firm that will formulate a plan for the project.

Design Nine, a company based in Blacksburg, Va., was contract-ed this week to find how to best deliver broadband access to the rural counties. The company was one of two interviewed for the project.

"We felt they were a better fit for the planning phase," according to Matt Erb, a Roane resident who chairs the CCR. "They've done business in areas very similar to ours, like Hampshire County."

Design Nine, according to its website, offers a variety of broadband network services, including early phase planning, network architecture and design, and network construction oversight and project management. It is one of a very few firms in the United States with experience in the design, construction and operation of open access broadband networks.

Design Nine projects have included over a hundred planning efforts for communities in more than 20 states.

Under recent legislation adopted in West Virginia, counties were allowed to join with their regional economic development councils to establish local broadband co-ops in under-served or un-served areas.

The law gives local internet providers easier access to existing utility poles and makes funds avail-able through the W.Va. Economic Development Authority to bring broadband to areas in need.

The Roane County Commission set up a broadband committee for the county in August 2017. A few months later Calhoun, Clay and Roane teamed for a joint effort, with the help of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Development Council, which serves Calhoun and Roane, and the Regional Intergovernmental Council office in South Charleston that serves multiple counties including Clay.

Each of the three county committees appointed three members from their committee to the CCR committee, which applied for funds to do a planning study.

In February of this year, the CCR received a $125,000 grant for planning purposes.

"(Design Nine) will figure out the best plan of attack for putting broad-band in the three counties," Erb said. "It will be a feasibility study to see how much demand for broadband we can generate in the three counties and what makes the most sense from a technology standpoint."

Erb said the plan should be complete within six months.

"We're already working on funding for the next phase," he added.

A significant amount of funding is available at both the state and federal levels for expanding broad-band, according to Erb. He noted the importance of high-speed internet service in today's world, including for medical, educational, business and entertainment purposes.

"This is the right time for us to be doing this," he said. "I'm pretty optimistic we can get what we need."

Cooperation from the community will be key in helping the process move forward, Erb noted. He said evidence of the project should be-come more evident in the near future as planning begins.

There is no timetable for establishment of greater broadband access in the counties, Erb said, but he thinks that day is growing closer.

"It's a shot in the dark right now," he said, "but I hope we can answer that when we finish with the planing phase."

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