Fiber to the Last Mile

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Spruce Knob was the last community east of the Mississippi to replace its Mayberry-style ringdown phone system. It is ready to be the first to have fiber optic line leading to every house.

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[imgcontainer left] [img:switchaa.jpg] For decades, an operator would make the connection for every call in the Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks section of West Virginia. Thanks to a local cooperative and a federal grant, the community may be the first in the country to string fiber optic line to every house.

One of the most sparsely populated areas of West Virginia is poised to become the first in the nation to have fiber-to-the-home broadband.

Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks are nestled away in the densely forested mountains of West Virginia’s Monongalia National Forest. This is the Mountain State’s highest elevation, with Spruce Knob topping out at 4,862 feet. Around the bend is Seneca Rocks, a cluster of sheer rock formations that has long been a treasured landmark for local residents and tourists alike.

If the system is finally built, this corner of West Virginia will enjoy a world-class broadband system for two reasons: federal financial support — the same kind of support that brought telephone service to rural America — and a quick-witted (and acting) local communications cooperative.

Currently, federal support for rural broadband is in question, pending further budget cuts and debate over the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.  

What happened in this West Virginia high country is instructive — not only for what can be done in rural America, but also what could be lost.

Not many people live here, and the isolation and quiet made the area attractive to the federal government during the Cold War. The government built two facilities here: Sugar Grove U.S. Naval Base operated by the National Security Administration and Green Bank Telescope operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. 

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