Broadband Access Ohio is a group of diverse individuals, organizations and municipalities with a common goal: connecting Ohioans to high-speed, affordable internet access. This week we sat down with member Ryan Collins of Buckeye Hills Regional Council. He discussed the challenges of connecting Appalachia and the importance of accountability.

Collins has been with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council as their Broadband Coordinator for almost a year but says they’ve been working on the issue of broadband since well before the pandemic. The BHRC is a council of governments who work to improve the lives of residents in Southeast Ohio. The group works with officials on issues such as aging, community development, mapping and data and population health. Broadband is a critical aspect for all of these issues.

“Broadband is the number one equity tool in the world right now, if you have access to broadband you have access to the global economy, you have access to the global culture,” said Collins. “It covers everything.”

Despite BHRC recognizing the problems of connectivity before the pandemic, Collins says like other areas, a light was shined on the issue in 2020. Collins recalls kids in their region doing homework in McDonald’s parking lots or picking up physical homework because no connection was available.

“In rural areas people were like ‘Oh you can just use your mobile hotspots’, but that’s not available everywhere. We don’t have cell phone service everywhere,” said Collins. 

Collins recognizes connecting Southeast Ohio won’t be easy. One reason is the topography of the hills creates challenges for infrastructure and have been an issue in the past for internet providers. “I completely understand that it’s hard but we need to find a solution,” said Collins. 

Another challenge has little to do with the region and everything to do with how those with the power to make change view it. Federal mapping allows the federal government to adequately fund different regions of the country but Collins says that due to outdated processes and data collection, this data does not paint the real picture of connectivity in Appalachia. This can lead to insufficient funding for areas that truly need it. The FCC recently proposed raising broadband speed standards, which could improve this issue.

“We’ve been burned in the past by federal mapping so it’s important that we keep our eyes on it,” said Collins. 

Challenges aside, Collins says he is optimistic that progress will be made on Broadband in Southeast Ohio. “I’m hopeful simply because of the people working on it…. there are great teams across Ohio focused on this,” said Collins.