Dark Fiber Project in Bradford County Another Plum from Natural Gas Tree

Johnny Williams
Bradford County Writer


High capacity dark fiber internet infrastructure is being planned for Bradford County, thanks to the Marcellus gas impact fee and some innovative leaders.

If you live in the rural countryside and all you want for Christmas is a faster Internet connection, you might just be in luck sooner than you think.

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting between a number of local Bradford County officials and federal USDA representatives, who discussed a large variety of things pertaining to energy development both here in rural Pennsylvania and across the country.

dark fiberBut the main thing that caught my ear – as well as the ears of the federal officials in charge of billions of dollars in grant funds – was the pitch by Central Bradford Progress Authority representatives Chris Brown and Tony Ventello, as well as Bradford County Commissioner Ed Bustin.

Essentially, they lobbied for the use of those federal grant monies to aid the construction of “middle mile” dark fiber high-speed Internet infrastructure. As Bustin explained, Bradford County is already doing their own “middle mile” project, dedicating $5 million of its impact fee reserves to this endeavor.

The goal of Bradford County’s dark fiber project is install a large “loop” of dedicated infrastructure around the county. From there, the county will look to internet service providers to hook up to that infrastructure line through a lease with the county, build the “last mile” to the homes of residents and provide faster Internet service.

As commissioners have previously explained, private companies such as Frontier Communications could not feasibly construct the “middle mile” infrastructure required to deliver fast internet while getting a profitable return on its investment within, for example, five years. The county, on the other hand, could handle putting out the funding necessary with an approximate 20-year return on its investment via leasing out hook-ups to companies.

“What we have here in Bradford County is just like any other rural area,” said Brown. “There’s too many miles 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.”

However, the problem with the federal grant funding, as Brown explained, is that it is geared too much towards “last mile” construction – especially when there’s no main “middle mile” infrastructure with which to connect to provide the service to that last mile. While the county has dedicated $5 million of its own money to the endeavor, it’s a $10 million project overall.

As a result, the commissioners and Progress Authority teamed up to do what small, local governments who care about their citizens do best – solve local problems, big government be damned.

As a former rural Internet customer (who has since moved to an area of Bradford County that DOES have dark fiber – and it’s awesome), I’ve been following this issue closely since the commissioners heard complaint after complaint about slow Internet and appealed to state government and internet companies again and again to solve the issue to no avail, and they developed this idea and program because of having Act 13 money available to them.

“(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,” Bustin said nearly a full year ago. “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.”

And as it turns out, that prediction might just start becoming true, as commissioners are scheduled to meet with federal officials again in January in the nation’s capital to look at possibly taking Bradford County’s model and see how it might apply to funding other “middle mile” projects throughout the country – providing federal funds in rural areas that haven’t been blessed with natural gas impact fee dollars.

“We’re blazing trails and moving forward in a way that’s never been done before,” Bustin said this month. “Will it bear fruit? Time will tell. But we’re happy to be able to even get this invite and discuss this plan.”

While its still too early to tell how far those discussions will progress, if this idea “bears fruit” as Commissioner Bustin puts, it will be a true testament to the power, intuitiveness and creative problem-solving of small government made up of elected officials truly dedicated to the progress and well-being of their community.

It would also be a prime example of what small, local government bodies can do when they’re not weighed down with unfunded mandates handed down from big state and federal governments telling them how to spend their tax money. Because Bradford County knows what Bradford County needs, not Harrisburg or Washington.

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9 thoughts on “Dark Fiber Project in Bradford County Another Plum from Natural Gas Tree

  1. Act 13 money is used for everything but “real impacts” from the gas industry in our counties like water and air and noise and light pollution.

    5 million would help some get potable water and buy their homes to help them move.

    But the gas promoting counties won’t do this, because they then would have to admit I was there are real problems with gas development.

    • The nonsense you throw up here is ever more factless, feckless and frantic, Vera; totally without substance of any kind. You need to step up your game!

    • Bradford County actually pours a lot of money into developing and helping people with affordable housing. They built the Towanda Terrace for example which is an affordable housing complex for seniors in downtown Towanda.
      They also use PHARE funding, which is from Act 13, to help young families buy and rehab their own home — helping them with the down payment for the home and providing funding for repairs.
      I can certainly provide links if you want.

    • Actually, just the opposite. There are no problems and no reason to take on the burden of buying rural America so those folks can finally relocate to North Central FLA.

  2. Great story, Mr. Williams.

    Hopefully your leaders in government and business can continue to collaborate on innovative approaches for the betterment of all.
    The 4 counties of western North Dakota, along with state and local government cooperation, continue to maximize the bounty that Bakken production enables.
    Seeing online pictures of the new, world class schools in Williston and Watford City are just 2 examples of what can be achieved.

    Your region of Bradford, Susquehanna, parts of Sullivan and Wyoming counties sit atop the absolute highest quality rock in the world containing natgas.
    Lycoming and Tioga (especially from the emerging Utica) are also top tier areas for development.

    I wish for all of your neighbors the very best outcomes in the future decades of hydrocarbon extraction and utilization.

  3. How do I reach the commissioners and progress team assigned to Chenango County to help correct the Marcellus ban that is imposed and crippling the area? We need their help up here. We need gas exploration, pipe fingelings tying into exist gas mains via mini compression station, need a tax revenue. Need gas mains to replace the aging infrastructure. Need help in Chenango County.

    • Good luck, your ruled by the communist party of NY state and the whims of generalissimo Cuomo and his cronies and the corrupt DEC. As long as they’re in power you’ll see no changes.

  4. “The constant advance of natural gas innovation and technology continues to go under-appreciated.” Jude Clement

    I would argue that the rapidly converging world of innovation and technology will soon become The Internet of Everything.

    Said differently, the powers of 5G, two-way connectivity, ample energy, and measurement and verification in real time will allow the all-inclusive Internet of Everything to the world:

    *Clean water,
    *World Hunger,
    *Electric Grid,
    *Natural Gas,
    *Liquid Natural Gas,
    *Transmission Lines
    *Economic Development,
    *Health Care,
    *Medical Innovation,
    *Hospital Services,
    *Environmental Mitigation,
    *Drones and Maintenance,
    *Big Data,
    *Artificial Intelligence,
    *Real Time Measurement and Verification,
    *Global Finance,
    *Innovative Companies,
    *Water Politics,
    *Energy Politics,
    *Energy Regulation.

  5. I hope that they do the same thing in Susquehanna County. That is the only spill – over that I get from the Gas boom in Pennsylvania. I get my Internet service from Frontier, where it sneaks over the border into the town of Binghamton. Oh and of course I can get good cell service thanks to the local towers that were put up on the back roads of Susquehanna County. My Neighbors within a half mile live in the internet and cellular desert of rural Broome County.

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