West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito brought Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to Wardensville on July 10 to hear about how Hardy OneNet’s fiber-to-the-home network was creating jobs and expanding opportunities in Hardy County.
The two then traveled to Capon Springs Resort in Hampshire County, where Hampshire residents and business leaders told the chairman how their economy was being hurt by the lack of a reliable broadband provider like Hardy Telecommunications.
Sen. Capito arranged the visit. As chairman of the FCC, Mr. Pai is arguably the most powerful and influential figure in the country for the telecommunications industry.
The group met at ASC Services LLC, a business that has located in Wardensville within the past year. ASC President Elizabeth Pennell said ASC transcribes federal agency and other hearings and sends those transcripts to clients all over the world, including several news agencies like CNN and Fox News. It requires near-constant video viewing that consumes a great deal of bandwidth, so a fast, reliable broadband connection is essential.
ASC’s business used to be spread all over the world, but more recent technological developments such as the proliferation of social media and high-profile leaks like the material released by Edward Snowden and North Korea’s hack of Sony forced the company to bring operations more in-house for security.
Ms. Pennell moved to Hampshire County years ago to get away from the rigors of Washington, D.C., area living, but the internet connection there isn’t even fast enough to reliably check email, she said. While traveling through Hardy County, she was urged by local residents Paul Yandura and Donald Hitchcock, owners of the Lost River Trading Post and the Wardensville Garden Market, to consider locating ASC Services in Hardy County because of Hardy OneNet’s fiber network.
Ms. Pennell realized the speeds and service offered by HardyNet clearly met ASC’s needs, and the company moved. They now have 25 employees and are planning to expand their operation to about 60 employees. The company starts employees at $15 an hour, and some employees who have been with them in Hardy County for more than six months are making $40 an hour, she said.
“There is a day and night difference between even here and neighboring Hampshire County,” she said. She added that ASC’s presence not just in Hardy County but in the state of West Virginia is “hinging on one thing and one thing only – the connectivity and broadband provided (by Hardy Telecommunications).”
The owners of ASC, Tony O’Brien and Stephen Carr Davis, said they realized the opportunities available in Hardy County because of Hardy’s OneNet network, and soon after the relocation they recognized the quality of people and workers here. They are now looking at starting a new business that again relies on broadband, focusing on helping small to mid-size companies be compliant with data protection and encryption standards. They are considering locating that business completely in Hardy County because of OneNet’s broadband network and the workforce.
Ms. Pennell said she wants young people to have opportunities to stay in West Virginia and not have to leave to find gainful employment, so they would like to bring more business to Hardy County. But that would not be possible if it weren’t for Hardy’s OneNet’s broadband, “pure and simple, black and white.”
“They really make … our business possible in Hardy County,” she said.
Mr. Yandura and Mr. Hitchcock then hosted Sen. Capito and Chairman Pai at their Lost River Trading Post. They explained how they were using OneNet’s broadband to use modern agricultural technology methods at the Wardensville Garden Market. They’ve also given jobs to dozens of local students as part of the project. The broadband opens up tourism and allows people with federal jobs in D.C. to telecommute but live in Hardy County, where they value the small-town lifestyle and high-quality people.
At Capon Springs Resort in Hampshire County, Sen. Capito told Chairman Pai that she asked him to visit the area because she wanted him to see the success story of Hardy County that has a reliable broadband network from a provider like Hardy Telecommunications versus the struggles experienced by Hampshire County which doesn’t have sufficient broadband.
Jonathan Bellingham, whose family has owned the resort for generations, told Sen. Capito and Chairman Pai that broadband has become such a necessity that his business is suffering because broadband isn’t available there. Even though the resort’s popularity is partly based on its seclusion and location away from urban stresses, many groups simply can’t stay there for long periods because they can’t afford to be disconnected from a reliable broadband connection.
Eric Hott, an internationally trained chef who returned to his family home in Hampshire County after spending years in Germany, said his business suffers because he can’t rely on broadband to take orders or accept payments. Chef Hott is renowned for his chocolates (samples of which he brought for Sen. Capito and Mr. Pai), and many of his creations, like chocolate-covered strawberries, are perishable items and broadband is vital to ensure purchases can be completed. He said he has tried for years to get the incumbent Hampshire County provider, Frontier Communications, to bring even decent internet service to the area but has been stonewalled. Frontier Communications was not present at the meeting.
Derek Barr, Hardy Telecommunications’ director of customer service and sales, marketing and human resources, accompanied the tour through Wardensville and Capon Springs. He told Sen. Capito and Chairman Pai that Hardy Telecommunications hears frequently from Hampshire and residents from other nearby counties who want HardyNet service, but that his company as a small non-profit cooperative simply doesn’t have the money to expand into several counties. He said Hardy Telecommunications tries to help whenever possible, particularly where emergency and medical services are concerned.
Derek pointed out that, in less than a year, both of West Virginia senators and the past two chairmen of the FCC have visited Hardy County to hear about Hardy OneNet’s broadband success. Senator Joe Manchin III brought former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to the area months ago, where both heard from local leaders about the benefits that Hardy’s broadband network has made available to Hardy County.