DRIVE Launches $3.2 Million Internet Extension for Rural Areas | News
DANVILLE — A $3.2 million expansion of a high-speed internet network is ready for underserved rural residents in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Columbia counties.
On Friday, federal, state and local officials joined economic development council DRIVE (Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy) to announce the launch of a wireless fixed broadband network that will bring high-speed internet access to rural areas. over 1,750 square miles. The groundbreaking event was held at the Montour Reserve Environmental Education Center outside of Danville.
“Today is the culmination of 18 months of work, but it’s really only the beginning,” said Jennifer Wakeman, Executive Director of DRIVE. “We’ve only scratched the surface of using this wireless. It’s not a static system, it’s not all finished today. It can grow, it can be expanded. It can it can support more users, it can support more ISPs (internet service providers), and it can serve many other needs.I can’t wait to see where it will be in five years.
The need was there before, but the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have put “10 exclamation marks” on the issues as people work from home and students go virtual in their homes, the State Senator John Gordner, R-27.
“It’s a start and we need to keep it that way to make sure everyone who wants these services can get them once and for all,” Gordner said.
Sixty percent of rural or underserved residents are expected to receive service in counties with room for expansion, Wakeman said.
Five counties used CARES funding
DRIVE, created by Columbia and Montour counties in 2015, was able to launch the current network through a public-private partnership with Geisinger, which provided a $300,000 forgivable loan to fund the project.
In 2020, spurred by the availability of CARES Act funding for broadband development, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties became members of DRIVE. The five counties together provided $3.2 million in CARES Act funds to build a fixed wireless network to reach underserved and unserved areas of the region. Northumberland County used $1 million, Columbia County used $800,000, Union and Snyder counties used $600,000 each, and Montour County used $200,000.
ConxxNE, a Jessup-based company specializing in network infrastructure deployment, won the contract and began the design, engineering and construction of this carrier-grade network in the fall of 2020. The project, completed l last summer added 16 additional tower sites. in targeted rural and underserved areas of the five counties.
The expansion was a collaborative effort between DRIVE, its member counties, local elected officials, private businesses and residents. The network uses a wide variety of vertical assertions, from county-owned 911 towers and corporate rooftops to private agricultural silos and monopolies placed on private land.
Two internet service providers, SkyPacket Networks and Center WISP, now serve customers throughout the region using this infrastructure. The network is designed to allow for future expansion to fill coverage gaps and meet the ever-increasing demand for broadband access.
Wakeman said customers are already signing up for the service and more are being invited to sign up. Providers will perform a site assessment to determine if a signal can be received at that location and provide an estimate of the cost to install the equipment.
Keller, Mueser, others speak
The event was attended by several dignitaries who provided comments, including U.S. Representatives Fred Keller, R-12 and Dan Meuser (R-9), Montour Area Recreation Commissioner Director Bob Stoudt, and Commissioner of Montour County and DRIVE Board Member Trevor Finn. It also included a video message from U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Meuser and Keller praised DRIVE and its collaborators for being a model for how federal and state money should be used. The COVID-19 pandemic, they said, has highlighted the need for internet access for students, healthcare workers, businesses and employees working from home in rural areas.
“Let this be the seed that people take and plant in their communities, to ensure that we provide all of America with what they should rightfully expect to have every day,” Keller said. “It’s good, a public service and a good investment.”
Finn: Now the hard work begins.
Finn said the “unique topography of hills and valleys” posed challenges for microwave technology.
“We continue to seek grants to add vertical assets to our networks while finding solutions to end connections,” he said.
Finn said the hard work starts now.
“We now have the potential for thousands of customers on our network,” Finn said. “However, even though it looks like we were sprinting to the finish line to do this job – and we were – it’s America. We just strapped on our running shoes. .”
Finn said there is room on the network for more customers and ISPs.