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Rural Pennsylvania Community Contemplates Broadband Options

Millheim Borough, Pa., residents could have reliable and accessible high-speed Internet access within the next year, but only if six areas sign a nonexclusive franchise agreement by November.

by Marley Parish, Centre Daily Times / September 12, 2019
Rural Illinois Shutterstock/Ian Dikhtiar

(TNS) — Millheim Borough, Pa., residents could have reliable and accessible internet access within the next year, but only if six areas sign a nonexclusive franchise agreement by November.

Atlantic Broadband representatives Fran Bradley and Rich Fultz attended Tuesday’s borough council meeting to discuss the feasibility of expanding and bringing cable, internet and phone services to the Penns Valley area. Although the goal of offering broadband services is achievable, residents voiced concern about a number of hurdles that could stand in the way — for starters, Millheim, Aaronsburg, Woodward, Rebersburg, Madisonburg and Coburn would all need to participate in the franchise agreement.

If every location agrees to enter the agreement, Fultz said the company will have an easier road to installing equipment and will benefit economically in the long run. But if one area drops out, Atlantic Broadband will have to reconsider its plans. The path the company is looking to build will run up state Route 45.

“This is all private capital by Atlantic Broadband. This is nothing that would be an expense on the borough. This is nothing that would be a legislative expense. Although if any of the legislators would be willing to help with the funding of it, we would greatly appreciate it,” Bradley said, addressing Acting Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives Sheri Collins, who phoned into the meeting.

Local and state officials attended the meeting, including Supervisor Keri Miller who asked if Gregg Township could be added to the deal.

“We don’t want to overcommit to our bandwidth,” Bradley said, adding that Gregg Township isn’t immediately out of the running to be included in the expansion.

Video, internet and phone services are packaged inside bandwidth. Although digital advancements have made compressing technology easier, Bradley said the company could risk over extending its services by adding too many locations.

“When we bring the service into here, we’re looking at this from an engineering standpoint that it’s going to work,” he said.

If the agreement moves forward, meaning every location enters into the franchise by November, Bradley said Atlantic Broadband could begin working to install equipment and provide service within a 12-month period.

“Part of that process is that we’re going to be building a whole new system,” Bradley said. “Wherever the utilities are aerial, will be aerial. Wherever the utilities are underground, will be underground. We’re not going to be coming in and digging up streets if there’s an existing pole line that is there.”

If underground work is required, Bradley said the company will abide by permitting processes put in place by each borough and township.

Using the price points established in Mifflinburg, Bradley and Fultz said Atlantic Broadband would be able to offer different levels of cable service — limited, value and MoreTV. Video packages range from $32.63 to $92.14 and include potential add-ons. Fultz said Atlantic Broadband is upgrading its services in Mifflinburg, so prices are subject to change and will depend on what level of service and premium add-ons customers select.

The company plans to offer both residential and business packages.

This is not the first time Atlantic Broadband has expressed interest in expanding to Penns Valley, said Millheim resident and former council member Leslie Warriner.

“We were at this point before, probably six years ago, and I was the vice president of council at that point,” she said. “I was in negotiations ... we were discussing the options, but Atlantic Broadband was interested in doing a community survey before any of this happened in order to put the infrastructure in.”

With the current plan, Bradley said Atlantic Broadband is better equipped to take on this project, saying that it will be permitting its own poles to install technology, but challenges may still occur.

“That can be a delay because we have to make applications ... to the phone companies and the power companies for every single pole that we will be attaching to,” Bradley said. “And there has to be enough room on that pole for us to attach to, and if there isn’t, then we have to pay the cost of having that pole replaced.”

The company is ranked as the eight largest broadband provider in the United States. Bradley said it offers services in 11 different states from Maine to Florida, focusing on rural areas. In Pennsylvania, Atlantic Broadband has equipment installed in 17 different counties throughout 250 municipalities.

Bradley and Fultz said the company is not concerned with the number of Penns Valley residents who will become Atlantic Broadband customers, assuming demand won’t be low. But, Fultz said providing broadband services to every Millheim resident may be possible but could come with additional fees.

“To say that we’re going to cover everybody in the township, I would say probably not,” Fultz said. “It’s not that everything is out of the question. We’re looking to get the majority of these towns covered.”

Representatives from Centre WISP were present at Tuesday’s meeting. After winning a bid earlier this year, Centre WISP has installed broadband equipment throughout the county, but Bradley said Atlantic Broadband welcomes the competition.

Atlantic Broadband is still working to contact other areas to discuss the franchise agreement plan. If one location decides against entering into the deal, the 12-month timeline could change.

©2019 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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