Stimulus to boost Internet access in area


By DON SHILLING

shilling@vindy.com

Schools, hospitals and businesses in rural parts of Trumbull and Mercer counties stand to receive enhanced access to the Internet thanks to a federally funded project.

Nearly 350 miles of fiber-optic cable will be installed in six counties in Northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania by Zito Media Communications of Coudersport, Pa.

The U.S. Department of Commerce this week awarded $6.1 million in stimulus funds for construction of the system that will be in Trumbull, Geauga and Ashtabula counties in Ohio and Mercer, Crawford and Erie counties in Pennsylvania. Zito will kick in $1.5 million.

The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded $63 million in grants to 10 projects that will provide better Internet access for rural and disadvantaged areas. More than 1,800 applications sought a total of $19 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Applications for a second round of funding are pending.

“In a globalized 21st-century economy, when you don’t have regular access to high-speed Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides,” said Gary Locke, secretary of commerce.

The intent of the rural systems is to provide better Internet connections to “community anchors” such as schools and hospitals.

The fiber-optic cable is designed to provide higher amounts of bandwidth for faster connections and increased services such as video conferencing.

Internet connections to such institutions will be part of the systems, but links to homes will not be made right away. Connections to homes will have to be made by private companies with their own funds.

Because of the federal funding, however, fiber systems such as Zito’s must be open to links from other Internet providers.

Dave Sweet, a spokesman for Connect Ohio, said Trumbull County has nearly 3,600 homes that do not have access to high-speed Internet. Connect Ohio is a public-private partnership that was formed in 2007 to improve Internet access in the state.

Colin Higgin, a Zito vice president, said he did not want to comment on his company’s plan until receiving approval from federal authorities. Zito provides cable service to rural communities in Ashtabula and Geauga counties.

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