Shawna and Travis McKeirnan’s 13-year-old daughter Geneva was the first to take advantage of the family’s new fiber broadband internet last Thursday, July 8.
“She’s been impatiently waiting,” said Travis McKeirnan from their home on Cowley Hill Road, Austin. “She’s already inside playing her game.”
Last week, the McKiernan family became Tri-Co Connection’s 1,000th fiber broadband customer since the subsidiary of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative started its initiative to bring faster internet to rural areas of Potter County. The first customer was hooked up in the Coudersport area in April 2020, with about 8,000-9,000 customers now to go.
“It’s an exciting project,” Rep. Martin Causer, who attended the celebration of the 1,000th hookup last Thursday. “People here desire to have connectivity and we’ll continue to support that.”
Causer said in Potter County, the COVID-19 pandemic only highlighted the need for faster and more reliable internet.
“You had kids trying to do their schooling at home, people working from home and not wanting to travel to the hospital for doctor’s appointments,” he said. “But so many in Potter County didn’t have this ability.”
For the McKeirnans, last year posed tough challenges, especially for Geneva, an eighth grader at Austin Area School District.
“We used to have satellite, which was horrible,” said McKeirnan. “She had a hard time connecting for school while she was home. And she’s on the volleyball team, so when they started playing again but they still weren’t letting people in to watch, they streamed the games. But we could never watch them because the connection was so bad.”
Senator Cris Dush said he’s committed to alleviating this problem for his constituents of the 25th District.
“Marty [Causer] got me involved my first year [as Senator],” said Dush. “We’re working to push along any grants available. We secured a $1.5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant when the initiative started a few years ago. Essentially, that money helped create a demo that proved this could be done here. When we did that, it became obvious to legislators and others that this was a worthwhile project.”
Kevin Brownlee, Tri-County’s president and CEO, said 40% of Tri-Co’s accounts in Potter County are seasonal residents, who he hopes will spend more time in the area if they have faster, more reliable internet. He said the same goes for kids who grow up in the area and leave, as broadband is expected to bring more businesses to the area, opening up job opportunities that may keep people here.
“This is huge for telemedicine, education and economic development,” said Brownlee. “As we proliferate these services, it’s our hope some of these seasonal residents might stay here. Why would you not want to live here?”