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03/24/2014
Frontier expands Internet at Snowshoe

State broadband council gave another firm $700K to perform same service

By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frontier Communications recently completed a series of Internet upgrades at Snowshoe Mountain that allow the company to provide high-speed broadband service to "nearly 100 percent" of residences at the ski resort, a Frontier executive said Monday.

"We are moving faster speeds in and making those available as we can," Reta Griffith said. "We have 1,600 customers, which is pretty much everybody."

Ten days ago, the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council awarded $713,000 in state grant money to Citynet, a Bridgeport-based firm that plans to build a separate broadband network at Snowshoe. An independent consultant paid by the Broadband Deployment Council recommended the council not fund Citynet's Snowshoe project, citing Frontier existing service and future plans.

Griffith said Frontier already provides the broadband speeds that Citynet plans to offer at the ski resort. Frontier has criticized the council for "subsidizing competition" instead of distributing grants for projects that bring broadband service to rural communities for the first time.

"There are areas that have nothing in West Virginia," Griffith said. "We still have those places in the state."

Griffith said nearly all Snowshoe customers can now subscribe to broadband service with a minimum download speed of 6 megabits per second - up from less than 1 megabit per second.

For a higher price, customers can get even faster speeds, up to 24 megabits, she said.

"It's been a while since we've been able to upgrade things, but we finally came through and got all the pieces in place," Griffith said.

For years, Snowshoe homeowners and resort guests have complained about poor or non-existent Internet service at the ski area. Broadband Council members cited those complaints, in part, as their reason for voting to give $713,000 to Citynet.

But Griffith said Monday that Snowshoe's Internet problems stem from a federal ban on wireless Internet at the resort - not because Frontier doesn't provide fast broadband speeds.

Snowshoe Mountain is 16 miles from National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, and falls within a "federal quiet zone."

"You can't interfere with their radio frequencies, and the current [wireless] technology does that," Griffith said. "It limits what guests are used to, which causes complaints at the resort."

The wireless-free zone forces Frontier to hard-wire customers' Internet connections at Snowshoe. Customers must connect laptops to routers with Ethernet cables. Wireless devices and gaming systems don't work.

"Guests show up with four or five devices, but just one thing to plug into," Griffith said. "We have to hard-wire everything when we do an install."

A series of storms in 2013 and earlier this year slowed Frontier's plans to enhance Internet service at Snowshoe, Griffith said.

A week ago, the company completed broadband upgrades for customers who live near the bottom of the mountain. Additional projects are scheduled this summer for the Silver Creek and Sunset areas of the ski resort.

Frontier's basic Internet package at Snowshoe costs $19.99, provided customers also purchase phone service.

"Pocahontas County should see a lot of areas change this year and have speed enhancements," Griffith said.

Earlier this month, the Broadband Council's consulting firm gave specific reasons for rejecting Citynet's project.

"The beneficiary of this grant is limited to a private resort community," the report stated. "The majority of this area appears to be served. It is not the best investment of state funds."

The consulting firm ranked Citynet's broadband proposals for the ski area last among five "infrastructure" projects that solicited funding.

Nonetheless, council members voted 5-3 to override the consultant's report.

A Citynet spokesman said Monday that he didn't know enough about Frontier's broadband service at Snowshoe to comment.

Citynet has said it plans to use the Broadband Council grant - along with $820,000 of its own money - to improve high-speed Internt to 1,500 homes at Snowshoe.

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