Harrison County among elite

CADIZ – In the United States there are 3,143 counties and county-equivalent administrative units in total, and Harrison County has been chosen as one of just more than 100 counties in the nation to receive an assessment through the Connected Community Engagement Program.

At a meeting at the Puskarich Library in Cadiz Tuesday afternoon, Connect Ohio announced the results of its Technology/Broadband Assessment which concluded that there was empirical evidence that there was a sufficient market to leverage “real credible last mile providers.” A point that was validated by Terry Jones of Agile Communications who announced that his company will complete current development and launch their initial broadband coverage in the county next month.

“It is very exciting for the county,” said Harrison County Broadband Project coordinator Sandi Thompson. “This is a great economic development resource and it will also provide opportunities for further developments in education and health care.”

“We are just one of 12 counties in the state to be selected,” Thompson stated. “To have Agile coming to provide broadband internet access to new communities which have had little or no existing broadband service available is just incredible.”

“The opportunity to grow jobs, skills, and lure new businesses depends on the availability and use of high-speed Internet service,” said Bart Winegar, Technical Outreach Manager, Connect Ohio. “Rural Appalachia Ohio faces a significant barrier to the opportunities that the Internet brings due to connectivity and adoption gaps.”

“From a business standpoint, DSL is simply no longer sufficient,” Winegar added. “Our assessment gives Harrison County a score of 76 out of a possible 120.”

“A score of at least 100 is broadband ready, so I am sure this is no surprise to any of you that this shows a great need for the county,” Winegar explained. “Which translates into market potential.”

It’s a potential that Agile Communications is anxious to service. Jones explained that Agile, usually a middle mile provider, will take on the last mile role in the county.

“We could not find a partner willing to work with us in the area,” said Jones. “We already had made investments and commitments in the area, we connected the library, ODOT and several other business and institutions in the area, and we decided to take the next step and take it on out to the residents.”

Jones informed that Agile is currently working out the details of an agreement with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office to utilize the microwave towers to complete phase one of the project.

The Tappan Lake area was listed as the priority project in the Connect assessment and Agile will cover 80 percent of the area with a broad band signal which will offer download speeds of at least 3 Mbps and as much as 8 to 10 Mbps per second.”

As far as expansion of the coverage area, Agile plans to follow the market. “We will have an official press release next week detailing the service and announcing community meetings,” Jones stated, adding that there will also be advertising in the county which will solicit customers. “We follow the market, we will encourage area residents to call for a free study of their area for possible expansion.”

“It’s a challenge to reach into all the hollows to provide broadband access,” Winegar said. “Unless there is public funding, there is no appetite for that right now.”

Another priority will be updating and adding online services for the county. “Harrison County is weak in comparison to other counties,” Winegar added. “We need to improve the online presence of government in the county.”

In addition, the survey recommends improving public safety communication and pursue next generation 911 upgrades.

Winegar stated that with the assistance of Doug Crabtree of the County Engineer’s Office, Connect Ohio had completed a vertical assessment of the county identifying towers and other structures that can be utilized for broadband portals.

Jones explained that his company had recently built a tower near Scio to service the Utica East Ohio Midstream facility. “We are proud to say that Harrison County is the first county in Ohio to complete a plan,” said Thompson. “This is just the first step, and we will continue to work toward facilitating affordable broadband access and educating the community on these resources.”

Winegar added that the report will be passed on to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, for their nationwide broadband assessment.

For additional information on Connect Ohio, the Harrison County assessment, Every Citizen Online and the Connect Appalachia Broadband Initiative program, visit the web site connectohio.org.

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com