COSHOCTON — Expansion of internet access in Coshocton County is viewed as purely positive for families and businesses by officials across the region.
The Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association will hold a series of meetings in the counties it covers related to a broadband feasibility study being conducted by Reid Consulting Group of Athens. A similar presentation was part of the OMEGA annual membership meeting in March in Coshocton.
According to the study, 9,206 households, or 52%, in Coshocton County don't have access to the industry minimum of 25 Mbps of download and 3 Mbps of upload speeds with 7,244 households, or 41%, at a rate of 10 Mbps of download and 1 Mbps of upload. More than 91% of the populated area, or 501 miles, don't have access to the industry minimum.
Addressing the problem and competition
There are two separate projects addressing the problem. Spectrum is receiving a little more than $1 million from the state to provide a fiber network to 1,245 households in the county. Coshocton County Commissioners have also pledged $5 million in pandemic funding to provide broadband to approximately 15,000 county residents through a wireless project with Ohio TT of Zanesville, with the possibility of connecting 5,000 more for $1 million in a second phase. Additionally, Starlink satellite internet is available to those who live in remote areas of the county.
Sean O'Malley of Reid Consulting said the projects compliment each other well and that competition is good for residents.
"From a consumer standpoint it typically results in better performance and lower prices," he said. "One of the things we like to recommend is, whenever possible, find ways to get multiple options into a place."
Coshocton County Commissioner Dane Shryock said affordability is a concern for a rural community with many low-income households. For example, while Starlink can get to remote areas, it averages $500 for the startup kit and $100 a month for service. Ohio TT's cheapest package is $29 a month for a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps of upload speeds.
"Whether it's available or not, the issue is whether it's affordable," Shryock said. "My standpoint is, you have to have it, but when it comes down to dollars, there will be people who will not be able to pay what some of the rates will be in the future."
Funding and need
The Reid Consulting study said to provide a fiber network for the underserved areas of Coshocton County would cost $79.4 million and an internet provider would most likely be willing to invest $15.8 million. This means a funding gap of $63.6 million, or close to 900 miles of fiber to be laid.
O'Malley said the funding would need to come from state or federal grants and there's no better time to secure that money than now. The Reid Consulting study is a major part of that as it shows need and coverage voids. O'Malley said the next step is to identify areas to focus on and go after funding and service providers.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our region. Broadband is finally on the big government radar and they're treating it like a big infrastructure investment project," he said. "I'm optimistic for the future at this point with all the programs available and the way the folks managing that money are looking at it."
Jeannette Wierzbicki, executive director of OMEGA, said broadband expansion is crucial for the region to reach economic and social parity with the rest of the state and nation. OMEGA covers Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Coshocton, Guernsey, Harrison, Holmes, Jefferson, Muskingum and Tuscarawas counties.
"Broadband is as essential a utility or service as water, sewer and other items such as that. By having this study done, we'll be able to identify priority areas to provide service to and then work with our communities and (internet service providers) on funding opportunities to serve those areas," she said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us and it's absolutely essential for us to be competitive in today's world."
Leonard Hayhurst is a community content coordinator and general news reporter for the Coshocton Tribune with close to 15 years of local journalism experience and multiple awards from the Ohio Associated Press. He can be reached at 740-295-3417 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @llhayhurst.
This article originally appeared on Coshocton Tribune: Study reveals broadband essential to Coshocton's growth