LANCASTER — The Fairfield County commissioners have allocated up to $500,000 to bring broadband access to more county residents.

The money is part of the American Rescue Plan act and will support winning bidders of the Ohio Residential Broadband Grant Program. That program gives grants to internet service providers to bring broadband internet to underserved or unserved portions of the state.

County economic develop director Rick Szabrak said an underserved broadband community is one with slower than 25 megahertz access speed. He said a 2017 study showed 13% of county residents were under that speed.

If a company wants to start a broadband expansion project in an unserved or underserved part of the county, it would get up $500,000 in matching funds. To be eligible for the state funding, a project must serve at least 1,000 residences and must cost at least $8 million.

“We felt this was a great way to help stretch our ARPA funds to serve more people throughout the county,” Rick Szabrak said. “We hope this incentivizes more providers to apply for projects in Fairfield County and increases the likelihood they will receive grant money from the state.”

Szabrak said equity with internet access is one of the things the ARP money can be used for.

“More people started working remotely from home,” he said. “Students needed to be able to access school work more remotely whether it was through virtual learning or just having access to the internet, high-speed access.”

Therefore, Szabrak said expanded broadband access is critical to the county’s future growth.

Commissioner Dave Levacy agreed.

“It is important for residents throughout our county to have equal access to internet service,” he said in a statement. “More people are working from home and more kids are doing online learning than ever before. They need reliable internet to do that effectively and we hope that these funds help provide more service throughout the county.”

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