Elected leaders and officials from Energy Transfer and Rural Broadband Cooperative (RBC) were on hand for the official presentation of the passing of the Butler’s Knob tower, previously owned by Energy Transfer, to the cooperative.
They gathered in front of the Huntingdon County Courthouse Thursday morning to celebrate this public-private cooperation to expand broadband services to residents of Huntingdon County.
After a year-long process, the Rural Broadband Cooperative secured access to the tower earlier this year atop Butler’s Knob, which is located on Jack’s Mountain.
This means they will be able to expand their service to the southern end of Huntingdon County in areas like Rockhill, Todd, Newburg, Hares Valley and Blacklog Valley.
This tower was also secured without the cooperative expending any funds, as it was a donation from Energy Transfer.
In his remarks, Huntingdon County Commissioner Scott Walls said he was thrilled to see both entities come together in a way that will serve the residents of the county.
“I want to thank Energy Transfer for working with RBC to make this long-time dream a reality,” said Walls.
Commissioner and chair Mark Sather pointed out how this is a great example of a public-private partnership.
“This is truly a public-private partnership,” he said, noting that private and public entities had to work together to make this happen.
Commissioner Jeff Thomas added this is helping to fulfill the top goal of the county’s comprehensive plan.
“When we did our 10-year comprehensive plan about four years ago, the number one identified issue in the county was broadband for unserved and underserved folks,” he said. “In 2020, we were able to help the RBC and give them about a half million dollars ofCARES Act funding to help them with construction (of other towers).”
Dwight Rittenhouse, who serves on the board of directors for RBC, thanked Energy Transfer, commissioners as well as other entities and people that have gotten the cooperative to this point, illustrating that CARES Act funding has helped them get to where the RBC is at now.
“(RBC) was started by a group of individuals who needed internet service,” he said. “We would never see on the side of a ridge or on top of a mountain where I live. So, we took it into our own hands to supply internet services to each other and the community.”
The growth of RBC has allowed them to be able to pass savings back to their customers by lowering their bills each month as well as increasing internet speeds.
“The profits we make are turned back to the co-op,” said Rittenhouse. “When you become a RBC subscriber, you’re not only a subscriber, you’re part owner of a nonprofit organization.”
Christopher Koop, public affairs specialist with Energy Transfer, said the process to transfer the tower from the energy company to the cooperative was a complicated, nuanced process, but one for which they are proud.
He explained the transfer was more complicated because it involved moving it to what he called a “minority asset owner with a third party operator.” The process was also more complicated when the land the tower is located is owned by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“What today is about is partnership and commemorating the hard work it took to get this done,” said Koop. “I want to thank the Huntingdon County Commissioners for brokering the dialogue and relationship we have with RBC. I also want to thank (state Rep. Rich) Irvin and (state Sen.) Judy Ward.
“When we know the state was involved, on day one, they reached out, rolled up their sleeves and helped us through this process,” he added.
Koop also thanked Rittenhouse for being the constant champion throughout this process.
“I’ve learned a lot about rural broadband and what this asset and transfer means for the citizens of Huntingdon County,” he said. “We’re really thrilled to be with all of you to commemorate the successful transfer of this asset.”
Irvin made concluding remarks, he said that the larger internet service providers aren’t always willing to go the extra mile to provide services in rural areas, but groups like the RBC are shining examples of what happens when people won’t accept the status quo and work to make things better.
“I commend you for what you’ve done, and on behalf of Senator Ward and myself as well as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we thank you,” he said. “