Somerset County still struggling to expand broadband service | TribLIVE.com
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Stephen Huba

Somerset County officials are nearly two years into a project to expand broadband internet service at four industrial parks and still have little to show for it.

County commissioners, who have been unable to reach an agreement with a qualified firm, referred questions to Jason Roblin of MCM Consulting Group.

“It’s just been a very frustrating voyage, and we really need the guidance of the two (funding) agencies to see what the options are to move this forward,” Roblin said.

The county received grants totalling $1.5 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2017 to extend fiber optic cable to four key industrial areas.

The proposed project is part of a larger effort to help rural areas overcome the technology deficit that comes with not having easy access to broadband, which the Federal Communications Commission defines as internet access at speeds of at least 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

The project, as originally conceived, would fund the installation of 22 miles of fiber-optic cable to bring broadband to more than 1,000 businesses and 3,900 households, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The expansion would include the Somerset Industrial Park and Laurel Highlands Business Park, both near the county seat of Somerset, Meyersdale Industrial Park in the southern part of the county and the North Star Industrial Park in Jenner Township, according to the Economic Development Administration.

Roblin acknowledged that the complex project has had some “unique challenges” but declined to elaborate. After two rounds of requests for proposals in 2018, commissioners were unable to find a contractor.

“In the first round, there were some technical issues, so they rejected the bids. In the second round, they could not come to terms with one of the bidders. It just didn’t work out,” he said.

The local project team is awaiting further guidance from the funding agencies.

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