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Somerset County, Pa., Scores $1.5 Million for Broadband Expansions

(TNS) — SOMERSET, Pa. – The Economic Development Administration of the U.S.

Department of Commerce announced Monday that it will award $569,204 to Somerset County to expand the county’s fiber-optic communications infrastructure. That award, combined with a similar $948,673 Appalachian Regional Commission grant that Somerset County received in January, will make a total of more than $1.5 million available to improve internet speeds throughout the county. At their meeting Tuesday, the Somerset County Commissioners applauded the news of the EDA’s grant and said that having widely available high-speed broadband internet service has become an economic necessity in recent years.

“As we move forward, it just becomes more and more important to be able to connect with everyone instantly,” Commissioner Gerald Walker said.

Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed: “We’ve got to get with the 21st century here,” he said

Broadband internet speeds are needed for videoconferencing – an increasingly popular tool for schools that offer online classes and businesses whose employees work remotely, Vatavuk said. The EDA’s grant will fund the extension of fiber-optic cables to what the agency described as “key countywide industrial areas,” including the Somerset Industrial Park, Laurel Highlands Business Park, Meyersdale Borough and the North Star Industrial Park. That project is expected to create 42 new jobs, retain 20 existing jobs and generate $25 million in private investment, according to a news relase.

“We commend Somerset County for working to spur economic opportunities through infrastructure improvements,” Dennis Alvord, the EDA’s deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs, said in the statement.

In January, the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded $948,673 to be used to install 22 miles of fiber-optic cable on existing pole lines in areas of Somerset County that currently have no cable broadband service and little DSL service. That project is expected to bring broadband internet to 1,094 businesses and 3,962 households and “will act as an economic and tourism driver in the county,” Appalachian Regional Commission officials said in announcing the grant. The grant was one of 31 awards, totaling about $26 million, that the Appalachian Regional Commission announced in January as part of its effort “to expand and diversify the economy in coal-impacted communities.”

“These investments capitalize on the growing momentum for a diverse economy in Appalachia,” Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl F.

Gohl said in a January statement.

On Tuesday, the commissioners began planning for the next step of the projects.

“We have to move forward now with finding a company to write the (specifications) and get us a biddable project,” Walker said, “so we can get it out and, hopefully, move this ahead as quick as we can.”

(C)2017 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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