Bobby Lewis, director of United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs in West Virginia, presented Hardy Telecommunications General Manager Scott Sherman with a plaque on July 8 congratulating the company for receiving the award. Hardy Telecommunications was the only company in West Virginia to receive federal funding in the first round of awards announced by the USDA Rural Development programs. The combination of a $9.49 million loan and $22.15 million grant is part of the federal government’s broadband stimulus funding package.
West Virginia Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) also sent their congratulations to Hardy.
Hardy’s project, dubbed Hardy OneNet Fiber-to-the-Home, will provide fiber-optic connections directly to consumers in Hardy County. Fiber-optic technology is the most modern technology in the telecommunications field, capable of providing high-definition digital television, ultra-high-speed Internet access, and digital telephone service through a single connection.
“It goes without saying that broadband – high-speed Internet – is changing the way Americans live their lives,” Mr. Lewis said. “Simply put, building a broadband infrastructure is critical to creating jobs and economic opportunity in rural America.”
With broadband access in rural communities, farmer and ranchers have up-to-the-minute commodity and weather information to make the best decisions for their operations; schools can expand limited course offerings through distance learning; first responders have information needed to keep their communities safer; and rural health care improves as medical specialists are able to use telemedicine to provide advanced diagnosis for patients or to consult with colleagues at other hospitals, Mr. Lewis said.
“We want every parent and grandparent in rural America to be able to look their child or grandchild in the eye and tell them that their hometown has the economic opportunities necessary to offer them a bright future,” he said.
In a letter, Senator Rockefeller said the funding award would be greatly beneficial to Hardy Telecommunications’ members.
“I want to wholeheartedly congratulate Hardy Telecommunications for receiving this $31 million award for broadband internet access for its customers. This much-needed funding will support small business growth, create jobs, help our students learn and improve access to health care – and all of these things are so important,” he wrote.
Chris Strovel, Eastern Panhandle field representative for Representative Capito, read a letter from the congresswoman to Hardy Telecommunications.
“Having worked with Hardy Telecommunications on project funding in the past, I know you have aggressively sought to increase broadband availability to county residents,” Representative Capito wrote. “Your success in expanding service to your clients serves as a model to rural non-profit co-ops. The Hardy OneNet Fiber-to-the-Home Project will provide affordable and reliable high-speed internet access, voice over Internet protocol availability, and video services to currently underserved areas. These services are critical for Hardy County businesses, workers, and students to compete in 2010 and beyond.”
Fiber-optic technology is unique because it can carry massive amounts of information, called bandwidth, over long distances without degradation. This information is transmitted by electronically-created pulses of light. The capabilities of fiber far exceed those of copper, which has traditionally been used for telecommunications. Other currently available technologies, such as wireless, simply do not have the capabilities to offer the quality and range of services that fiber offers.
Data on a fiber-optic cable can travel many miles in a split-second, allowing a more cost-effective method to transmit large amounts of data to everyone’s homes. Plus, once fiber is installed, it is usually upgraded by changing the electronics that create the light pulses, not by replacing the cable itself. That’s why fiber networks are often said to be “future-proof”.
Connecting homes directly to fiber-optic cables enables homes and businesses to receive a wider range of products and services. These enhanced services will include digital telephone service, high-speed broadband Internet access, and high-definition digital television, all provided by Hardy Telecommunications through the latest fiber-optic technology. A high-definition television service also will be able to provide an expanded selection of local content, with stations such as WHSV-TV3 in Harrisonburg and a local Hardy access channel.
Derek Barr, marketing/human resource director for Hardy Telecommunications, said a substantial number of Hardy members has asked the company to offer a television package.
“It was one of the most requested new services in a recent member survey,” he said. “This funding award will enable us to give our members what they want at an affordable price, and they’ll also have the convenience of having all of these services on one bill.”
Scott said Hardy will start initial planning work immediately on the project. The design calls for critical community institutions, such as medical facilities, schools, and government offices, to be connected first. Overall, the project should be substantially completed in about three years, he said.
Scott said the funding award for Hardy Telecommunications will serve as a milestone moment for the entire county.
“Hardy’s OneNet project, made possible by the loan and grant from the USDA Rural Development Telecommunications programs, will position Hardy County at the forefront of telecommunications. It will be a turning point for rural mountain communities, allowing instant access to share information and ideas with others across the world, increasing economic opportunities for businesses and residents while increasing knowledge, productivity, and prosperity,” he said.
“Today, Hardy County and Hardy Telecommunications have taken a giant step forward, and with this project, it will help its citizens and surrounding communities move ahead as we continue into the 21st century,” Scott said. “I predict that in five to 10 years, as a result of this critical infrastructure improvement, the surrounding area will be circled on the maps of many people as a great place not just to visit, but also a great place to live and work while being connected to the world, all right at your fingertips. This is truly a significant day in our area, and years from now, many will look back and realize just how important today really was.”