WYSOX TOWNSHIP — U.S. Rep. Fred Keller (R-12) has been getting to know the concerns of those across his new district.
As he met with officials at Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative in Wysox Township Tuesday morning, he listened to their concerns regarding what has become a common call for change out of Bradford County — broadband connectivity — especially with how it can hinder public safety and drive young workers from the area.
According to Matthew Leonard, government and regulatory affairs specialist with the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association, co-ops like Claverack are willing to work with broadband providers looking to utilize their poles, but the interest is not there.
“We have actually spent quite a bit of time over the past two years looking at the issue and trying to evaluate what role we could play in solving the problem,” said Claverack President and CEO Bobbi Kilmer. “We did do a feasibility study to determine if we could get into the business and be a full fledged broadband provider running fiber into the home, but financially it really wasn’t feasible without an influx of some kind of grant money.”
Claverack had considered pursuing funding through the Connect America auction, but the census blocks guiding who could be served by the funding didn’t line up with Claverack’s membership area — an issue shared by many other cooperatives, according to Leonard.
“I think at some point that would be OK, but at least initially to leverage the assets of the cooperative to serve that many members would be problematic,” Kilmer explained. “But we are still looking at potential opportunities as they might come available. Right now, what we’re looking at is to consider installing our own fiber backbone between our substations and our offices so that we have that available to us for our own communication needs, with the possibility down the road that we could use it to expand into becoming a broadband provider or certainly leasing the excess capacity on the fiber backbone to a broadband provider.”
“I think a number of our cooperatives are looking at that model, building a fiber ring or backbone on their own system in sort of a if-you-built-it-they-will-come situation,” Leonard added. “… They’re just not willing to build out that fiber, so if we could do that initial ring, we’re hoping that could bring in additional companies who know how to do that broadband,” enticing providers to continue building out the network from there.
Kilmer stressed the need to be able to acquire accurate data about the true internet speed of the area, noting a recently study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and Penn State University that showed a discrepancy when compared to the FCC maps that rely on data provided by internet service providers.
With the closure of the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility anticipated around the end of September, officials stressed to Keller the importance of supporting nuclear energy through a variety of measures, including waste storage, while adding praise for the Trump administration and the Department of Energy for their work on the regulatory front.
Nuclear power currently provides 60% of power to all Claverack members, and the cooperative has a 10% ownership of the Susquehanna Nuclear Station in Berwick.
Kilmer said that nuclear power is key to keeping area energy prices low and stable, which has helped attract interest from electric-intensive businesses.
“From dealing with our rural members for a lot of years, they’re more concerned about stable, competitive pricing. They aren’t concerned about wide swings in the market,” Kilmer explained. “We have about 50 members who have their own renewable installations in their home, solar and wind, and we’re happy to work with them — we assist then — but it’s a very small percentage that chose to do that.”
Within the 2,800 miles that Claverack serves, there are 16,000 members and 19,000 meters.
During his visit, Keller said it’s been nice getting reacquainted with the communities of the 12th District — many of which he had traveled through during his previous career with Conestoga Wood Specialties before beginning what would become five terms in state office.
Keller was voted to fill the unexpired term of Tom Marino during a special election in May.
“We don’t do it ourselves. It’s a team effort,” said Keller. “That’s why we’re spending time to make sure we get around to all areas of PA-12. If we’re not out communicating and listening to what’s happening, we don’t have a chance to get it right.”