Member Spotlight: City of Fairlawn

After 27 years, Fairlawn Mayor and Broadband Access Ohio chairman, Bill Roth, retired as the Mayor of Fairlawn. He passed the reins to Mayor Russell Sharnsky, who has been on City Council for over two decades. The BAO team recently sat down with Bill, Russell and Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for Fairlawn, to discuss what’s next for Fairlawn Gig and their community.  

Fairlawn has become nationally regarded for their success in connecting their community through their own internet service program, FairlawnGig. Ernie Staten, who oversees the FairlawnGig service, said that when they first launched, they were hoping for 35% of addresses in their community, residential and business alike, to be connected. Today, in 2023, they have over 68% of Fairlawn on FairlawnGig, with some neighborhoods having over 80% of addresses connected! The program became self-sufficient after a year and Staten compares this service to other cities repairing roads. 

“At the end of the day, it’s infrastructure just like our roads and water. No one expects a community to make money from fixing a road, we aren’t doing this to make money,” said Mr. Staten. 

Mayor Sharnsky echoes this sentiment, “Like former Mayor Roth always says, ‘this is the electricity of the 21st century.’ Getting our community connected is necessary infrastructure for our residents, just like electricity was back in the day.” 

People around the country are taking notice of Fairlawn. The team in Fairlawn has met and advised over 300 communities across the state and country on how they can implement a similar program to FairlawnGig. Their key piece of advice? “Know your community,” said former Mayor Roth, “Meet with your residents, understand their needs, have buy-in.”

“The political will is without a doubt the biggest piece of this. You need the backing of the community and leaders, starting at the very top,” said Staten. All three men agree that once the community needs were understood, a cost-effective plan was laid out, getting the political backing for the plan is the most critical. WIthout the full support of community leaders, any municipality will struggle. 

And the City of Fairlawn is most certainly supportive of FairlawnGig. When members of the Ohio legislature threatened funding  for community-broadband programs in 2021, over 17,000 emails were sent from Fairlawn residents to their representatives urging them to not support the budget measure. While some outside groups and legislators may argue against community broadband programs, those in Fairlawn can’t imagine their life without it.Isn’t that what government is all about? Meeting the needs of the residents? The team at Fairlawn certainly thinks so.

Looking forward, Fairlawn plans to remain on the leading edge of technology when it comes to broadband access. FairlawnGig is currently in the process of upgrading the devices inside residences and businesses so customers can access “Wifi 6”, meaning they can easily start streaming over a gigabit of speed with the right personal equipment. Affordability is also a concern. This past November, FairlawnGig lowered their price for a gigabit of speed to only $55. Those who were already paying $55 for a slower speed, were automatically upgraded to the better speed. Their customer service has a 94% approval rate and the team prides itself on quick and reliable service for their residents. 

“Isn’t this the whole meaning of what we were doing: raising the community and making it affordable?” said Mayor Sharnsky. 

Former Mayor Roth remains the Chairman of Broadband Access Ohio and he’s looking forward to what the organization can accomplish in 2023: “ We have strength in numbers and we represent the entire state and all different models of community broadband and public-private partnerships. It’s important to know we aren’t fighting this battle alone.”