Ohio grant program could help area residents gain access to broadband

WTOV FOX, January 31st

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ohio — Broadband Ohio is a division of the Ohio Department of Development and it’s aiming to strengthen broadband across the state but is focusing in on a few portions of Jefferson County.

A few challenges delaying the task to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas of Jefferson County.

“Jefferson County is over two times bigger than, square miles, than Brooke and Hancock,” Commissioner Tony Morelli said. “So, the bigger the area, the longer it takes to get the maps, to get the consultants. So, I believe that’s a problem.”

BHJ Metropolitan Planning Commission Executive Director Mike Paprocki said the difference between West Virginia and Ohio could be how much of a priority legislators in Charleston place on broadband as compared to Columbus. He said maps of what areas need internet expansion aren’t truly representative. And in West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has written to Washington expressing that concern.

“The mapping the FCC does to show where services are underserved or overserved, the mapping is grossly inadequate,” Paprocki said. “She’s written several letters to the FCC to get these things straightened around and I think that’s one of the reasons West Virginia is so much farther ahead.”

The state of Ohio’s newer effort is the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program organized by Broadband Ohio.

“It’s to serve areas that have deficient broadband service, and they were defining it as what they call 25 down and 3 up,” Paprocki said. “Since then, the U.S. Treasury has come out with a different standard, which is really 100 down and 20 up. The ultimate standard they are looking for is 100 megabits, where you do it symmetric, which is what you get with fiber.”

The process becoming lengthy as 218 applications spanning 87 counties were submitted. Funding for the projects can come from the grant program, but Morelli said it doesn’t come directly to the county to disperse.

“We don’t get that money,” Morelli said. “When you see the state’s putting $250 million, it’s the internet service providers who end up with the funding, so they have to go through the process and apply before they’re given any of this federal or state money.”

Internet service providers were able to apply for grants around the county seeking more than $1.5 billion statewide to expand broadband internet.

Paprocki explained how communities along the river are in a bit better shape than rural areas when it comes to connection.

“The urbanized areas, I would call those the river communities – Steubenville, Wintersville – they have a good cable provider,” Paprocki said. “There are some deficiencies in the network, and we’ve been working with that service provider to upgrade their services to better and faster speeds and to expand their service to areas through this line extension program.”

No addresses have been announced yet as successful applicants, but Paprocki said BHJ is hopeful around 300 addresses will benefit from the grant program.