YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A regional broadband feasibility study could get underway next month, following the announcement Wednesday of a $132,500 federal grant.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded the grant to the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. Those funds will assist Eastgate with funding the study of broadband capabilities in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.
“We know there’s rural areas that don’t have any internet. We have urban areas that don’t have high speed internet. We have areas that lack affordable internet,” said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director, in an interview following the announcement. “We want to look at all the gaps that we have and propose solutions that we can start chipping away at asking for additional funding down the road to implement some of the solutions they propose.”
He expects to put out a request for proposals within the next two weeks and hopes to select a consultant who will be able to get started on the study, which he estimates will take a year, by the end of October.
The intent is “to begin the process of establishing a cutting-edge, expansive, and purpose-driven fiber-optic network” in the three counties, according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Portman sent a letter to EDA’s regional director in March in support of Eastgate’s grant application.
The study also will identify potential improvements in designated federal Opportunity Zones in the counties, Kinnick said. Eastgate will combine the EDA funds with money it received from the Appalachian Regional Commission for the approximately $275,000 study.
“We’re excited to get started,” he said.
Portman, in a statement announcing the grant, shared Kinnick’s enthusiasm. The funds will allow Eastgate “to use these funds to conduct a broadband study in order to evaluate what broadband speed and access is needed for this region,” he said. “In doing so, [Eastgate] will work to make great strides in providing its residents with the technology and data needed to continue to move northeast Ohio’s economy forward especially considering the increased broadband needs of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Businesses need high-speed internet and might not want to locate in a specific area if they don’t have access to it, Kinnick said. In other cases, businesses that don’t have access to or can’t afford service can’t bid on jobs online.
The pandemic also has highlighted concerns over online learning capabilities, as well as those of senior citizens as telehealth becomes more commonplace, he continued.
“All that affects quality of life and it affects the economy,” he said.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.