Thousands without net access

LISBON – While for many the ability to utilize high-speed Internet to obtain information or for entertainment is taken for granted, that is not the case in many areas of Columbiana County.

Stu Johnson, executive director of Connect Ohio, and the group’s technical outreach manager, Bart Winegar, met with a a group of local officials recently, saying 10 percent of the residents of Columbiana County have no access to broadband Internet, which is more than 10,000 people.

At a time when many of the larger companies are going toward wireless communications, some residents and small businesses in rural areas are still unable to access the web.

The men pointed out schools are soon going to be expected to have online common core testing and farmers are now required to use the Internet to report pesticides they are using. Firefighters are expected to update their training online. Children need Internet in order to complete many homework assignments. Medical records, including X-rays, are often transmitted online in hospitals.

From looking for a job through JobsOhio to attempting to log on to the new federal health insurance website, everyone is supposed to have access to the Internet. But there are several obstacles, such as the cost of running fiber wires underground, a lack of cable television lines in some areas and hills blocking the line of site system.

Besides a lack of speed available, another issue has been the cost of expanding Internet. If there are not enough homes in an area, the monthly bill of providing Broadband to an area can be too large for families to afford.

With a mission of expanding broadband Internet coverage throughout the 88 counties in Ohio, the men from Connect Ohio told township trustees one of the solutions they have seen is working with small, local, independent companies. Companies like RAA in our area, which provides the service from a larger tower to a smaller one on the house. In many cases, Winegar said that is the quickest way to expand.

He encourages people without any access to contact Connect Ohio, because in some instances they have been able to work with companies to provide broadband Internet to underserved areas, if there are several homes in an area.

While money has been offered to push larger companies into expanding the Internet, Johnson points out some companies do not want to follow the requirements which go along with accepting the money. In Columbiana County Frontier has taken some money to work on broadband related issues, while AT and T has refused.

“Broadband is unregulated,” Winegar said. “You can’t force them unless there is public support.”

The Port Authority has also been looking at ways to bring high-speed Internet to the area, agreeing in September to hire a Columbus consulting firm to study the feasibility of a project here. One company, Omnicity helped provide high speed Internet to one of the townships, but later filed bankruptcy. Another company, Horizon Telecom is reportedly working on efforts to extend broadband in Ohio.

Johnson said he believes everyone should have access to at least two options to receive broadband Internet, which allows people choices.

In some areas, the cost of broadband connection is passed onto the consumer, such as a $200 connection fee, where others have free connection. In all cases, there is a monthly bill, which is based on what people in an area can afford and how many other options there are for that family.

Commissioner Tim Weigle asked local trustees if they would be interested in inviting a local service provider to the next meeting. The meeting with Connect Ohio was set up by Weigle and Tim Ross, the Eastern Ohio Liaison for the governor.