Dylan Vidovich/Logan Banner Lisa Wells, Project Administrator for the Region 2 Planning and Development Council, details a planning grant that would analyze broadband service in Logan County during a public hearing in the Logan County Commission meeting room on Monday, Sept. 9.

LOGAN - The Logan County Commission on Monday voted to advance to a second public hearing about a planning grant that would assess broadband needs in Logan County, which could potentially lead to future improvements in service.

Lisa Wells, project manager for the Region 2 Planning and Development Council, spoke to the commission about the grant, which she said Logan County expressed interest in. The grant has been in the process for at least two years and, if approved by commissioners at the next meeting, the applications for it are due Sept. 30.

The Region 2 Planning and Development Council, which is a council of governments in southern West Virginia composed of six counties - Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo and Wayne - works to obtain several federally funded sources regarding infrastructure. Some of the more recent sources have been earmarked for broadband development and expansion in rural areas.

The planning grant, which would be submitted by Region 2 on the county's behalf, has a cap of $75,000 and would pay for a consultant to analyze where the gaps in broadband service are in the county as well as offer some suggestions on how to implement broadband expansion. The results, Wells said, can determine what happens when a larger source of funding comes through that actually fixes and expands the service.

"That's basically what you submit when you get bigger money," Wells said. "You have to a plan in place.

"Usually the planning grants are only for one year," Wells added. "They're a lot more short-term than larger infrastructure projects, so basically, you would have a building block - a plan in place - where you've identified where the major gaps and suggestions are made on how best to proceed with implementation. It's kind of a road map. It's not a full-on engineering plan by any stretch, but it's basically a starting point that secures money to move forward with growing it out."

During the hearing, Wells passed out a map from the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council that outlines the fixed wireline speeds throughout Logan County.

The map, which uses data from December 2017, is color-coded into four categories: orange for low range speeds, which are less than 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream; yellow for low/middle range speeds, which indicate a minimum of 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream; light green for middle/high range speeds, which are a minimum of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream; and dark green for high range speeds, which are a minimum of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

Wells said those speeds indicated on the map are what the internet service providers say they provide, but are not necessarily accurate numbers.

"The Broadband Enhancement Council is currently working on new mapping, and what they have found out nationally, not just in this state, is that those reported speeds are not generally accurate," Wells said.

"Most of the providers do not meet the federal minimum guideline, and that's 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. They say they meet them, and they do not. Maybe in some areas that are more populated and they have more of an infrastructure, but the further outlying you get, the slower the speed gets and less reliable it is."

The map, which can be accessed at broadband.wv.gov, depicts broadband service in Logan County that is splotchy at best, with areas reaching reported high range speeds isolated throughout, the largest being the Chapmanville area. Many other isolated parts of the county do not even have any reported broadband service at all, according to the map.

Wells said new mapping is expected to be released with a few days, which will paint a more accurate picture.

"This is a first step, more or less, and the planning grant will afford the county some funds to really start taking a look at options," Wells said.

The next public hearing on this issue will be before the next Logan County Commission meeting at 2:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, in the commission meeting room, 103, of the Logan County Courthouse.

Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.