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Expanded wireless internet service in place

LISBON — The infrastructure is in place to get reliable high-speed wireless internet to problematic areas of Columbiana County, and the company has begun hooking up households that have signed up for the new broadband service.

“That’s where we’re at in the process,” said Scott Dunn of RAA Data Services, an existing broadband service provider with 2,500 customers in rural areas of the county.

Dunn was hired by county commissioners to install LTE units, which is the technology that will allow RAA to reach many of those underserved areas. The units were purchased with $1.46 million in federal COVID-19 aid received by commissioners.

The LTE units were installed on 25 towers or other structures around the county already owned or leased by RAA as part its network. LTE technology is what smart phones use to connect to the internet, which is what will enable RAA to reach areas with unreliable or unattainable broadband service.

Traditional wireless internet relies on an unobstructed line-of-sight from tower to tower, which makes it nearly impossible to reach households in some of the hollows and hilly parts of the county.

“Before, if you couldn’t see the tower, if you didn’t have line-of-sight, I could not provide you internet,” Dunn said. “We’ve done everything we could to get internet to people over the years and the problem has always been line-of-sight.”

With LTE, line-of-sight is no longer an issue. Dunn said the new technology will allow RAA to send the internet signal through most terrain and other natural obstructions such as trees, which has also been a problem.

“The signal doesn’t have to be as strong, which is what allows it go through the trees and terrain challenges,” he said.

There are still some extremely hilly terrain and hollows in the county that will still be impossible to reach even with the LTE technology. “I wish I could cover every house … but this will allow us to cover an awful lot more people,” Dunn said.

Approximately 150 people have signed up with RAA for the new service since commissioners made the announcement in November, and Dunn expects the number of new customers to reach 2,000 or more within several years as word gets out. The cost is $40 to $100 per month, depending on the package, and for more information call 330-271-9693.

Commissioners decided to use some of the COVID-19 aid money received by the county to undertake the broadband initiative because as more students moved to online learning due to the pandemic, getting them reliable broadband became a priority, they said.

The LTE units had to be in place by Dec. 30, which was the original deadline for spending any federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds. The CARES Act was passed in April by Congress to help federal, state and local governments, businesses and citizens impacted by the fallout from COVID-19.

To meet the deadline, Dunn said he used his tower crew and hired two local cell phone tower crews to help install the LTE units, which allowed him to retrofit three towers a day.

“That’s why I was able move as quickly as I could,” and the fact there was already existing wiring in place on his towers, he said.

The county will continue to own the LTE units for now, with RAA responsible for maintenance, repairs, equipment replacement and software upgrades, but Commissioner Tim Weigle indicated they may turn it over to RAA at some point.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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