Help needed to bring broadband internet to all

Help needed to bring broadband internet to all

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The Tuscarawas Economic Development Corporation and its partner organizations are asking all county residents to complete a five-minute survey that will help identify areas still in need of access to broadband internet service.

The ConnectTusc campaign is a fast-track program to develop a plan for expanding broadband internet access throughout the county. Marla Akridge, the executive director of TEDC, said previous studies have shown there are still unserved and underserved areas of the county.

“Every child needs the internet now for school work,” Akridge said. “And so much business is conducted over the internet including telemedicine and paying your bills. It is all dependent upon reliable, high-speed internet access.”

Data from the survey will be used to secure grant funding for internet expansion as part of a 16-week pilot program run by the State of Ohio called the BroadbandOhio Community Accelerator program.

“We want to develop a strategic plan for expanding broadband across the county, particularly into the rural regions where a lot of people just don't have any access to broadband or they have poor access to broadband that is unreliable and slow,” John Kelly of the TEDC said.

Widespread access to broadband internet service is not the only goal of the program. The initiative also has a goal of making internet service fast and affordable.

“The survey is going to help us hopefully make some really good, informed decisions,” Akridge said. “The state is looking at different speeds important for businesses right now, and we anticipate that the funding is going to be regulated around that.”

According to Kelly, receiving completed surveys quickly is crucial. “We had hoped to have at least 1,000 surveys returned by Sept. 1,” he said. “We currently have received around 500.”

Kelly said while Sept. 1 is not a hard deadline, data from surveys completed by that date will be used in the presentation TEDC must give to funding organizations.

“The goal is to have the data ready to present as soon as money becomes available,” he said. “We're trying to develop a map that shows which providers are offering service and any infrastructure they may be working on. Once we do start getting funding, we'll be ready to tell companies where they need to focus their efforts first.”

Farmers an important survey group

Kelly said TEDC needs to hear from not only residents and business owners in towns and cities, but also from farmers and rural residents.

“We really need to get responses from people in the rural areas,” he said. “We really want to help get farmers connected because there is a lot of new farming technology that relies on an internet connection.”

Tuscarawas County is one of the first in Ohio to participate in the BBCA program launched by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The program will award grants to internet service providers for construction of broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas of the state.

According to a press release issued by DeWine’s office, the grants are designed to help cover the costs for internet service providers to build networks in areas that lack high-speed internet.

Take five

TEDC is urging everyone in the county to take five minutes to fill out the survey at www.tuscedc.com/connectusc. For those who do not have access to the internet, hard copies of the survey are available at the TEDC office at 339 Oxford St. in Dover, at all branches of the Tuscarawas County Public Library, and at most town and village halls. The survey also can be taken by cell phone.

As an extra incentive to fill out the survey, each participant’s name will be entered into a drawing for one of several $50 gift cards.

For more information or for help filling out the survey, call TEDC at 330-602-4422 or email info@tuscedc.com.