Pictured, from left, are commissioner Sam Nolte, commission president Kristie Tenney and commissioner Terry Cutright at their Feb. 3 weekly meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

County ponders partnership with in-state fiber internet provider

BUCKHANNON – Representatives with an in-state fiber internet and local television provider approached the Upshur County Commission with a plan to install fiber internet throughout the county.

Kevin Mullins, CEO of SecureNet, attended the Feb. 3 Upshur County Commission meeting to propose a partnership with the county.

“I’ve done a market budget for Upshur County and, obviously, the bulk of your population is going to be in the city of Buckhannon, but I’m sure you want to get bandwidth and internet access out to the far reaches of the county,” Mullins said. “That entails two problems – and not hard problems, they’re just fairly expensive problems – you have distance and terrain.”

He said it would cost about $30 million to bury fiber from one end of the county to the other.

Kevin Mullins with SecureNet addresses commissioners at their weekly meeting Thursday morning. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

“The way our model works is we form a partnership with the county, and we help the county set up all of the accounts, so we buy all the materials, all the labor, all the RFP (Request for Proposal) contractors and all that stuff at cost,” Mullins said. “We don’t charge anything for that; we only take the revenue from the subscribers once they come online, so we act as the ISP (Internet Service Provider) also and everything we do is in-house, so we don’t contract anything out from support to billing to all design, engineering – all that stuff.”

All the revenue would come from internet, television and phone services subscribers, and then Secure Net would split that revenue 50/50, after expenses, with the commission.

“It becomes a revenue generator for the county, and then the county would own the asset, which would be all the fiber infrastructure that goes in and then the county could bring in other ISPs to compete,” Mullins said. “Then you can have a competition-type environment, where it lowers the price and increases [the quality of] customer service for the subscribers out in the field.”

He said burying fiber is more expensive, but it’s more reliable.

“We essentially go down the street underground and we get to a central power pole on that block,” Mullins said. “It would come up that pole and then we serve the customers from that pole with individual drops. If something happens to that pole, it’s only those few customers that are down instead of half the city.”

The project could be implemented in phases, so the commission wouldn’t have to spend $30 million all at once, Mullins said.

“We could deploy it in phases and those phases would be up to you guys and who you want to service,” he explained. “First, we should find out who has the biggest pain point: if everyone in Buckhannon has internet service, but say French Creek has no service, then you may want to get it there first, but that will be up to you.”

Mullins said there is currently about $137 billion worth of grant money on the federal and state level to do projects involving broadband.

“We have the pricing all broken down with our average internet cost is at $40 to the homeowner and then if they’re gamers or they have a bunch of teenagers and everybody’s streaming 4k Netflix, our top price is going to be $80,” Mullins said.

Upshur County administrator Carrie Wallace said Secure Net should meet with the Upshur County Development Authority director Jennifer Bostian to discuss this idea further.

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