Private broadband connection sought for Williamson

July 17, 2018

WILLIAMSON — People living in Williamson may soon have access to a cheaper and faster broadband internet connection.

Williamson Health and Wellness is moving on with a plan to build a broadband network that would sidestep the city’s reliance on major internet providers. This network might eventually link up to Gilbert, which also wants its own broadband connection. It’s part of a nationwide trend that finds people creating “do-it-yourself” broadband internet connections, especially in rural areas where major service providers are slow to expand.

Dr. Donovan Beckett, CEO of Williamson Health and Wellness, said the idea to build the broadband connection came with a desire to “take control of our own destiny.”

“We didn’t want to Beckett sit around and wait on the state,” Beckett said. “We wanted to be proactive and ask ourselves, ‘What are the possibilities with broadband?’ ”

The West Virginia Broadband Council is in the middle of conducting a study to determine if 2016 data advertised by internet service providers accurately reflects people’s connection speeds. According to the data, a majority of Mingo County is ranked within the “high range,” meaning residents enjoy relatively fast download and connection speeds compared to more densely populated counties.

However, the study does not reflect people’s access to broadband, which is lacking in certain parts of the county. People in Gilbert have complained about the lack of connections, especially tourists visiting the Hatfield and McCoy trails. Recently, county leaders learned they would

need to bring a broadband connection to Varney if they wanted to open the county’s new airport there.

Beckett said Williamson Health and Wellness paid for a private consultant about a year ago to determine the feasibility of bringing a new broadband connection to Williamson. The consultant determined it would be relatively easy to establish a “dark fibre” broadband connection extending from Pikeville, Kentucky.

Kentucky is in the middle of a broadband internet overhaul known as “Kentucky Wired,” which is seeking to bring internet connections to every county in the state.

“This is the biggest factor for us because we have a direct line of sight to Pikeville,” he said.

Beckett said Williamson Health and Wellness is now in final discussions with the Appalachian Regional Com-mission for a grant that would begin work on the broadband project. The grant application recently received votes of support from the Mingo County Commission and the Williamson City Council.

The proposed broadband line would run into Williamson from Pikeville, Kentucky, and it would be leased off a major carrier. People would then pay a wholesale price to Williamson Health and Wellness to access the connection.

The connection wouldn’t be as expensive as the major carriers and could offer faster download and upload speeds, he said. The dark fibre connection requires little maintenance, and any revenue generated will go into expanding the network, he said.

The town of Gilbert announced in May it had received a grant to conduct a broadband feasibility study of its own. Gilbert may link up to Williamson’s connection if everything works out, Beckett said.

Beckett said he sees his role as a healthcare provider as more than just clinical work. It’s important to provide access to the internet to develop businesses and help people find access to jobs, he said. Improving economic opportunities improves people’s overall health, he said.

Travis Crum Is a reporter for the Williamson Dally News. He may be reached by phone at 304-236-3539.