TOWANDA -- Bradford County Commissioners on Thursday took a major step forward in the quest for improved Internet connectivity and wireless communications by approving an over $5.2 million grant to the Progress Authority Broadband Initiative.
The monies could potentially pair with a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the state, which would match the county's contribution to the project -- giving the endeavor over $10 million for its completion.
The initiative, which is being spearheaded by the Central Bradford Progress Authority, calls for a dark fiber cable infrastructure to be installed in a loop around Bradford County.
Specifically, the cables would be placed on poles first from Towanda to Troy, then to Wells Township, then to the Valley, and lastly down the U.S. Route 6 corridor.
"This is exciting, cutting-edge stuff," Commissioner Doug McLinko said. "It'll be a domino effect, because having that network will improve cell service because we'll have the ability to get cell service up to those cell towers.
"We're committed to good Internet," he continued. "Internet is important today for economic development, home-schooling, medical issues -- so that's what we're doing. It's almost as important as electricity at this point."
Commissioner Daryl Miller added that the network would significantly improve emergency communications in the county as well.
He explained that the infrastructure would create opportunities to build more cell towers, which would improve cellular and radio communications.
Miller noted that another goal of more towers would be to lease out "space" on the tower to private mobile network companies for a fee -- something that officials see as a long term investment that could see the county get its money back in perhaps 10 to 15 years when combined with leasing out dark fiber Internet space.
The county's portion of the project is being paid for through impact fee funds.
Commissioner Ed Bustin said the progress of the endeavor speaks to the level that county officials attacked the issue.
"(We) attack things and, instead of waiting for someone else to tell us how to fix the problem, we get out in front of it and fix the damn problem ourselves," he said. "We got the right team and the right approach, and it's an example of us being proactive and not reactive. I think that we are very close to breaking new ground in rural communications with broadband that I think will be a model, not just throughout the commonwealth, but through the nation."
Commissioners added that the project will move forward regardless of whether the county is awarded the aforementioned state grant.
However, the state monies would certainly expedite the project to point where it could be completed in as little as three years, commissioners said.