LACEYVILLE — Dozens of public and energy industry officials ranging from local township supervisors to the United States Departments of Energy and Agriculture all gathered at the Laceyville Fire Hall on Friday to exchange information and ideas to advance rural Pennsylvania — namely in the areas of energy and infrastructure.
A wide variety of topics were discussed during the meeting, which featured a panel that included of Department of Agriculture officials Curt Coccodrilli, Chad Rupe and Michelle Christian, each of whom elaborated on their dedication to the rural regions of America.
“Basically, we are a bank with about $225 billion available to help rural communities with development projects of varying degrees,” Rupe said. “But we aren’t just going to give you money. You need to apply for it and have a plan of how it’s going to benefit your rural communities.”
With that, Bradford County Commissioner Ed Bustin and the Central Bradford Progress Authority’s Chris Brown launched into a presentation of the county’s dark fiber infrastructure project, which looks to install dark fiber loops around the county to bolster service and internet connectivity to rural residents.
“Our design is redundant. It is built to withstand the impacts of disaster. It automatically ties into every one of our school districts where we immediately increase the potential for communications safety programming,” Bustin explained. “It links with towers for our emergency services — towers that we’ll be adding will also be used to expand our coverage for phones.
“And I think our funding model is unique,” he continued. “This is a $10 million project, and we’ve already dedicated $5 million of our own money from Act 13 to get this project off the ground. We believe in this project, and I believe we’re ideally suited for it.”
Brown explained that the goal of the dark fiber endeavor is to provide the “middle mile” infrastructure necessary for private service companies to latch onto and subsequently provide the “last mile” of service to customers.
“We have 50 percent of this already funded, but we need help with the other side of it,” Brown added. “The problem with USDA funding is it’s mainly suited for that last-mile provider. It’s not suited for this middle mile infrastructure. What we have here in Bradford County is just like any other rural area. There’s too many miles of of road, and too few people to actually make a business model for for-profit companies to get the return on investment that they need to actually expand service.”
Rupe was optimistic, however, that some kind of partnership could be reached to help the project move forward.
“We’re not here to harm small businesses. We’re here to empower people so that partnerships can be formed, which is important,” he said. “I think there’s a solution here for what you’re trying to do, and I think partnering with the electric co-ops is a big help in that regard. I believe there’s a solution. We’ve got to refine this and find the right path. I firmly believe in what you’re doing. It’s just a matter of us doing our job on our end in finding the best solution, which program best fits what you’re trying to do. You have all the things that we’re trying to do. We’re fully invested in it, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity.”
The joint meeting also touched a number of other subjects throughout the event, which will be reported on in future editions of the Morning Times.