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Stimulus funds wanted for better telecom service

April 04, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Getting a piece of the stimulus funding is at the top of the list for Morgan County officials, and they are seeking assistance from everyone in the county. 

A Telecommunications Task Force recently was established by the county's Economic Development Authority, and resident Jerry Berman is heading it up with assistance from EDA consultant Ken Dabkowski.  

"The No. 1 priority in the county is better cell service and high-speed Internet service across the county for everyone," Berman said. 

The first step in working toward getting funding for Morgan County is to know exactly what it needs, and the task force is in the process of finding that information with a survey. 

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"If you want better cell and high-speed Internet, we need to know what we need in order to get stimulus money," Berman said, "and persuade the providers to do more."

They need the information now, "not three months from now," Dabkowski said. 

"All flows from what you need," Berman said.

The survey can be accessed online at www.wiremorgan.com. It will confirm and map current service areas, and determine infrastructure needs to improve service for residents, businesses and public institutions, he said. 

It can be faster



Berman said even if residents have high-speed Internet service, it can be faster.

"There are levels of high-speed Internet and we especially need it for our institutions," Berman said.

Bill Clark, Morgan County administrator and EDA executive director, said the people who have responded by mailing the survey are "enthusiastic about the prospect of better Internet and cell service in the county." 

"It's so easy," Clark said. "The survey asks simple questions and it takes a short period of time."

A resolution was passed last week by the Morgan County Commission asking all county residents to fill out the survey because of the need for improved broadband and cell service. 

Morgan County Schools Superintendent David Banks said improving high-speed Internet and cell service is important to the schools. 

He said it will help "streamline our network and communications to the outside world," and will improve video and audio streaming to better develop interactive classrooms, "which is what 21st-century technology is all about." 

To encourage survey participation, the school system is sending home a letter to students' parents, Banks said. 

Berman said once the task force identifies the demand, the next step is to find out what the current providers' plans are to increase service and what infrastructure is needed. 

A task force advisory committee has been established to include local county officials, business leaders and residents to help with planning, strategy and outreach. 

"We want all to know what is being done," he said. 

Stimulus funding



Kelly Goes, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce, is working on the stimulus funding at the state level, and the survey will help the state plan its stimulus request, Berman said. 

"Morgan County and other counties that are proactive in assessing their broadband needs and demand will surely be in a stronger position to leverage investments through the stimulus monies in whatever form that may take," Goes said. 

Berman believes the current providers are positioned now to provide improved service to Berkeley Springs and densely populated areas. To improve service in these areas, and in the western and southern parts of the county, six high-speed Internet and cell service towers are needed. 

He said grant assistance needs to be provided to high-speed Internet providers for service to underserved areas where there is considerable demand for service at affordable rates, he said. 

Berman volunteered his help on the project because he wanted to do more for the county, he said. He moved to Morgan County about three years ago but was a part-time resident for more than 20 years.

He is the founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C., an Internet public policy organization, and is chairman of its board.

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