State chipping in $500K to improve, expand internet in Valley
YOUNGSTOWN — The state announced its plan to support local broadband expansion by providing half a million dollars for the design of a project that would run along state Route 11 from Ashtabula to Columbiana County.
The project, called the Lake-to-River Fiber Broadband Corridor, was one of the key recommendations of a Broadband Feasibility Study released by Eastgate Regional Council of Governments in June 2021. The project will help eliminate the digital divide in the rural and urban areas within the region by improving middle-mile infrastructure and last-mile broadband capabilities.
“I can’t say it enough. This is a great day for us moving forward,” Eastgate Executive Director Jim Kinnick said.
This middle-mile infrastructure is expected to include an underground fiber line that would run nearly 100 miles and provide last-mile connectivity to existing fiber lines on Interstate 90, Interstate 80 and the Ohio Turnpike. The improved connectivity created by this project will provide internet access to more than 620,000 Ohioans.
At a kickoff event for the project, Kinnick said this will impact all areas of life positively, including business, government, education and individual households. The feasibility study highlighted 12 initiatives that could be done in the region to enhance internet services to underserved areas, but this project is the biggest.
“Eastgate strives to create an environment that will serve current and future technology needs, and one that establishes a platform that supports and facilitates existing, as well as new, internet service providers, telecommunications carriers and data center services within the region,” Kinnick said.
The engineering analysis will include a geographic information system fiber map that will visualize the network and its critical components. The map will depict the location of the fiber and other telecommunications infrastructure. By using network technical data, geographic and demographic information, the fiber map will be a blueprint for construction of the Lake-to-River Fiber Broadband Corridor.
Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik said this engineering analysis is a “critical next step” in making the corridor a reality, which her department, along with Broadband Ohio, have been working on with Eastgate for about two years.
Mark Ragozine, an economic development planner with Eastgate, said the design will take six to nine months, and shovels could be in the ground by this time next year. Most of the project is in the state right-of-way, so he does not foresee many problems or traffic interruptions once construction begins.
At this time, Ragozine said the companies that will be involved in the construction are not ready to be announced, but those companies foresee no supply chain problems for this project.
Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda said he has received countless calls over the years from residents about the lack of connectivity in their area. He said this project will help residents in rural areas and that the county is working on other projects that could be tie-ins to the Lake-to-River Fiber Broadband Corridor.
“I’m so excited about this,” Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said. “Our young people need to be brought into the 21st century,l and this is the way to do it.”
Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown added this project is also great for families to stay connected, and especially seniors who can use digital services, like tele-health medicine, with better internet access.
Currently, 112,160 people in the region do not have internet access. This high-speed fiber optic cable will help some of those people, as well as providing other opportunities for business and government. A flyer from Eastgate lists four major benefits of high-speed coverage: digital equity and inclusion, economic growth and prosperity, improved public safety and increased awareness of government services.
State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who got ODD and Broadband Ohio on this project, said it is vital in bringing new business to the Mahoning Valley. He pointed out how essential connectivity has become to the functioning of business and said the region has to be able to provide what big business needs to come to an area, and broadband is one of those things.