Huntington Applies for Thunderclap Broadband Grant

For the past seven years, the City of Huntington has been working on the delivery of high-speed broadband to its re
sidents.   Recently, Mayor Steve Williams partnered with State Sen. Robert Plymale and the nonprofit organization Thundercloud, which consists of local entities including Marshall University, Marshall Health, and Mountain Health Network, to apply for a $2.5 million POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Gov. Jim Justice also wrote two letters to the ARC expressing strong support for the grant.

Mayor Williams and Sen. Plymale recently learned that Comcast and corporate telecommunications lobbyists are attempting to thwart the grant application to the ARC.

“We feel very confident that the Thundercloud project is in the best interests of the public, will boost economic development, and will provide a better quality of service at a lower cost than any private company, and we are optimistic that the ARC will view it the same way.

Unfortunately, we are learning that Comcast, which only provides a fraction of the level of high-speed broadband that they claim to provide, is actively trying to torpedo this project and our grant application.We even gave Comcast an opportunity to present a proposal for this project to a 'Gigabit City' task force that I assembled in 2016. They didn't so much as return our calls. Other companies that were contacted early in 2020 about our goals for the community never responded. Now, they appear to be coming out of the woodwork, pushed by corporate lobbyists, in a last-minute effort to thwart Huntington’s progress.

Every Comcast subscriber in the Huntington service area can relate to what I am now experiencing with this company -- frustration. The private sector has just not stepped up to provide adequate, affordable high-speed broadband in greater Huntington, and we find it extremely frustrating that they are fighting our efforts at progress now. At a critical time when we are trying to improve high-speed broadband and the economic outlook of our community, Comcast is attempting to squash us like a bug.  </p><p>

Because of these recent developments, I am calling for a public hearing as soon as possible to investigate whether Comcast and other private companies are providing the level of broadband service they claim and also allow businesses, citizens, educational institutions and the health sector to speak out about their satisfaction with the quality of broadband investment in the region.”

THE FOLLOWING IS A STATEMENT FROM SEN. PLYMALE:</p><p>  

“Thundercloud was developed to provide world-class broadband connections to our area for economic development. The project has the potential to be replicated in the greater Appalachian region.

It is important to convey that Thundercloud was created so that West Virginians would be making decisions for West Virginia toward resolving our lack of adequate internet service in unserved and underserved areas. I am personally frustrated that most of our broadband connectivity decisions are being made by giant corporations that are not domiciled in the Appalachian region and do not understand the injustice that we suffer with a lack of connectivity.”

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