Broadband Will Bring High-Speed Internet Connectivity to the National Radio Quiet Zone


Green Bank Observatory campus, credit Jay Young.

Pocahontas County residents are set to experience a transformative shift in their internet connectivity, as the state of West Virginia announces substantial developments in the broadband infrastructure. The West Virginia Governor’s Office has granted preliminary approval for nearly $33 million in funding through the Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD) program, paving the way for enhanced high-speed internet access across the region.

The initiative, part of a broader effort to bridge the digital divide, aims to bring reliable and high-speed internet to underserved areas in Pocahontas County. This development follows the statewide commitment to improving broadband access, highlighted by Governor Justice during a recent announcement. Four internet service providers (ISPs) will install approximately 660 miles of new infrastructure, connecting over 5,200 targeted locations that previously lacked access to reliable broadband services. 

In many locations, this funding will pay for optical fiber installation. “Optical fiber as a broadband solution is far better than service from space or via wireless or cellular links, which are less reliable and have the potential to undo much of the coordination work that has happened in the National Radio Quiet Zone over many decades,” said Sheldon Wasik, Zone Regulatory Services Coordinator for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  As examples, LEADS funds are being awarded for fiber projects in many WV counties, including: Armstrong Telecommunications, Inc. in Wayne, Putnam, and Cabell counties; Citynet, LLC in Wetzel, Ohio, and Marshall counties; Comcast Cable Communications, LLCin Mineral County; and to Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone, Inc. in Pendleton and Pocahontas counties.

According to the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, this significant investment will fuel the expansion of broadband infrastructure, facilitating a more connected and digitally inclusive Pocahontas County. The LEAD program prioritizes line extension projects that promise to bring high-speed connectivity to remote and rural communities, aligning with the overarching goal of ensuring every West Virginian has access to reliable internet services, even in the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ).

The NRQZ was established by the federal government in 1958 to limit radio frequency interference with scientific and federal research conducted within a 13,000 square mile area, which includes the Green Bank Observatory and the federal government’s Sugar Grove facility. The NRQZ also contains a much smaller and more specific area, the West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zone (WVRAZ), which surrounds a 10-mile radius of the Observatory. At the time these restrictions were created, the technology of mobile devices, wifi, and other transmitters that we use daily didn’t exist. This technology operates at many of the same wavelengths as the planets, stars, galaxies, and black holes the Green Bank Telescope is observing.

Improvements to internet services will be developed with the NRQZ in mind. “The LEAD initiative to increase broadband access in the NRQZ doesn’t include enhancements to cellular coverage,” notes Chris De Pree, Deputy Spectrum Manager for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory. “There has been some confusion and rumors about this. Engineers from the observatories, the National Science Foundation, and Sugar Grove Research Station have been meeting with community leaders for several years to develop strategies to improve cellular and radio communications specifically for emergency response.” 

Pocahontas County residents can look forward to a range of benefits resulting from this broadband enhancement, including improved access to education resources, telehealth services, business opportunities, and overall increased quality of life. The deployment of high-speed internet is anticipated to boost economic development, attract new businesses, and empower local communities in various ways.

Residents can stay informed about the progress of these broadband initiatives by visiting the official website of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council https://broadband.wv.gov/

The Green Bank Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory are major facilities of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Media Contacts:

Jill Malusky, NRAO/GBO News & Public Public Information Manager, ude.o1713524880arn@y1713524880ksula1713524880mj1713524880 304-460-5608