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Youngsville TV’s aggressive plan for broadband

A study on broadband access in the region by the Northwest Commission expressed a need for non-profit cooperatives to help drive broadband initiatives in the region.

Insert Youngsville Television – now known as Blue Fiber Corporation.

Their plan is aggressive.

And, in pieces, it’s coming together.

They’ve already connected some of the county’s 911 operations to fiber.

But their ambitions have grown far beyond that and include the goal of fiber internet within a 100 mile radius of Youngsville.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” said Thomas Mott, operations manager said. “(It’s) one of those goals we are going to start and every year build upon it.”

State and federal money is available to non-profit entities like YTV and Mott said they want to capitalize on that funding source to “try to expand and bring broadband to people in the region. 110 miles probably isn’t out of the realm. We’re working with the Northwest Planning Commission. We’re a member on their broadband team trying to find areas in the eight county region that we would be able to deliver broadband services to to meet their needs.”

Currently, that’s a project funded by the Allegheny regional Commission and the Northwest Commission that will take fiber to fire departments in Garland, Spring Creek, Spartansburg and Sugar Grove’s station in Chandlers Valley.

Mott said equipment would be deployed from those stations to “quickly get service to those people that are close by.”

He said they are also working on a USDA Farm Bill loan to fund the expansion. He said that process has included much back and forth.

“Each time we get closer to them approving,” he said. “That program, if it comes through” would run 235 miles of fiber “so that should pass right around 4,600 homes and businesses in the area.”

They’ve also submitted a Community Connect grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“That particular grant program is to service the Cherry Grove Township area,” Mott said. “That one is a 15 percent cash match. So we, if we get that, will have to get a loan for 15 percent of the grant amount which has been pre-approved from Northwest Savings.”

He explained that the applications include 25-30 testimonials from potential customers about need in the area.

“That’s really what these programs want to see,” he said. “The more people that provide us the information and say ‘I live here. This is what I have … (and) why I need it. I would like it.’ Those are all the things that they look at in these competitive” grant programs.

All of these initiatives have been a couple years in the works for the organization.

“We really started this, the first dance down this path, the board and myself and a couple others started talking about ‘How do we do this?'” he said. “So it’s been two and a half, three years we’ve been working.”

And this incremental approach appears to be how the effort will develop.

“We are going to start in the area where we have the grant assets in place. That’s the easiest to get to the communities,” Mott said. “We’ve laid out a plan to try – clarify, to try – to get the funding to build throughout the rest of the county, those areas that are unserved…. Those are the places that we’re trying to get to.”

And Mott believes YTV might be the vehicle to get the job done.

“YTV is a very unique animal because it is a not-for-profit communications company,” he said. “There’s very few of them around. They can directly apply to and be awarded grants. A for-profit company can’t do that.”

“YTV is really a cooperative,” he added. “We saw (the challenge) and said ‘OK, we really do have a duty to help the community because we’re a community-based entity. So that’s how this all started – how can we get service to people (and keep kids and grandkids here and give opportunity? All of those things tie back to opportunity.) How can we give them the stuff they want to have here?”

He said he’s spoken to “enough people” from Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland “that would want to live here but they don’t have the services. That’s difficult. (There are) so many things that can be done to make our area better suited to have those people come here so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

They have set up a survey to continually gather data about the need for service in the area – http://bluefibercorp.com.

Mott said the survey is part of the loan program.

“We have to do a market study,” he said. “We’ve collected information from people that have submitted.”

He said the survey is “pseudo-ongoing, collection never ends.”

“We still are actively looking for those people that say ‘Hey, we want it.’ We take that information.”

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