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Tri-County REC secures federal support for regional high-speed internet project

MANSFIELD, PA — The Federal Communications Commission announced today that Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative was among the successful bidders in the Connect America Fund II Auction, securing federal support that will enable the utility to make broadband internet service available to its consumer-members across north-central Pennsylvania.

The cooperative, with headquarters in Mansfield, Pa., was awarded $3.2 million in annual support for 10 years through the auction process.

“We are excited for the opportunity to deliver high-speed, fiber-optic internet service to the homes, farms and businesses across our service region,” said Craig Eccher, Tri-County president and chief executive officer. “This will provide our rural region of Pennsylvania with first-class internet service and enable our consumer-members to enjoy smooth, uninterrupted live streaming and lightning-fast download speeds that those living in urban areas take for granted. We also expect the availability of broadband internet service to spur economic development in our region, creating opportunities in areas such as telemedicine and distance learning, and opening doors for future business ventures.”

With the federal support in place, Eccher said the cooperative will proceed with plans for a full fiber roll-out across the co-op’s service territory over a six-year period. The cooperative serves more than 16,600 consumer-members in Bradford, Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming, McKean, Potter and Tioga counties.

“Our goal is to bring broadband to rural communities just like we brought electricity to them back in the 1930s,” Eccher said. “The entire initiative is a six-year project with 2,700 miles of fiber delivering high-speed internet to our members. We are eager to move forward with a project that has such transformational possibilities for our region.”

News of Tri-County’s success in the Connect America Fund II Auction comes just weeks after the cooperative was awarded a $1.5 million matching grant through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project program. The state funding will be utilized for the first phase of the co-op’s multi-year broadband deployment. The phase-one work entails construction of 103 miles of fiber in Potter County.

Eccher said the cooperative will begin seeking proposals to design and construct the Coudersport-area component of the broadband network next week, with physical construction to begin in 2019.

Tri-County broadband project

Tri-County broadband project to begin following award of $1.5 million grant

Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative has been approved for a $1.5 million state grant to construct 103 miles of above-ground fiber that will expand access to broadband internet service to 1,400 consumers in Potter County.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the award Aug. 7, and representatives of the Governor’s Office, Potter County and Tri-County hosted a joint press conference in Coudersport that same day to outline the cooperative’s proposed fiber-to-the-home project in Potter County.

The project will make broadband internet service available to 830 residential, 540 seasonal, and 13 commercial customers in townships surrounding Coudersport.

Funding for the project will come through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project program, a grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects.

The construction of the fiber is expected to create 27 jobs, with an additional four full-time jobs created permanently as a direct result of this project.

“Access to broadband opens the lines of communication in many ways,” Gov. Wolf said. “By bringing faster internet service to rural Pennsylvania, we are supporting current residents and existing industry and doing a lot to attract people and businesses to the region.”

Craig Eccher, president and CEO of Tri-County Rural Electric, notes the project is just the first phase of a long-term effort to boost internet speeds throughout the cooperative’s service area.

“Our goal is to bring broadband to rural communities just like we brought electricity to them back in the 1930s,” Eccher said. “The entire initiative is a six-year project with 2,700 miles of fiber delivering high-speed internet to our members. We are excited to get started on phase one.”

He said requests for proposals for the project will be issued this week, and he expects fiber construction to begin in 2019.

“We are greatly appreciative of Gov. Wolf’s support for this project, as well as all of the help we received from Sen. Joe Scarnati, Sen. Gene Yaw, Rep. Martin Causer and Rep. Clint Owlett,” he added.

Currently, more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack access to robust, reliable, high-speed internet, hindering healthcare, education, and business development opportunities, all items critical to economic development. Over 520,000 of those residents without access reside in rural areas. This project aligns with Gov. Wolf’s Broadband Initiative, a dedicated effort to provide high-speed internet access to every household and business in Pennsylvania that was launched earlier this year.

Area legislators applauded the release of $1.5 million in state funds for Tri-County’s rural broadband expansion project.

“Quality broadband service is vital to the livelihood of the rural communities we represent, affecting our local economy, educational opportunities and access to health care,” Scarnati said. “This is an important and much-needed investment in our future.”

“I commend Tri-County Rural Electric officials for their initiative in addressing the need for broadband service in our communities,” Causer said. “In today’s world, quality internet access is becoming just as important as the electric service the cooperatives made possible decades ago. This is great news for our region.”

“I want to thank the governor for releasing this funding for the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative Fiber to Home project,” said Owlett. “I was happy to advocate for this injection of funds, which will help improve broadband access for the region. This is a total game changer and just the first step in increasing service to the entire Northern Tier.”

With headquarters in Mansfield, Pa., Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative has served the residents of northcentral Pennsylvania since 1937. Today the cooperative provides electricity to over 16,600 members in Tioga, Potter, Bradford, Lycoming, Clinton, McKean and Cameron counties.

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Jerome Sasala has resided in the area since 1969, when he was hired as a music teacher by the Cameron County School District. He moved to Potter County after purchasing a farm near Austin in 1982.

 

Sasala has worked in education as an elementary and secondary teacher, assistant principal, elementary and secondary principal and, for the past several years, served as the superintendent of the Austin Area School District. In addition, he has worked as a carpenter, home builder, plumber and residential electrician.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a Master of Arts from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Administration from St. Bonaventure University.

He and his wife, Judy, reside on their working beef farm and are the parents of two grown children.

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