Trumbull, Eastgate working to expand broadband access

Trumbull County is working with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to develop the foundation of a plan that will enable the county to have access to a $42.24 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment — BEAD — grant that will distribute money to communities across the United States.

Trumbull and Eastgate are using a feasibility study completed in 2021 as the foundation of the work currently being done to establish what engineering and other work will be needed to expand broadband internet connections in Ashtabula, Trumbull and Mahoning counties, according to Nicholas Coggins, assistant director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission.

Much of the pre-application work needed to apply for the BEAD grant is expected to be done before the end of 2024. Some of the early grants are expected to be awarded in 2025.

Broadband USA will begin distributing the funds from the BEAD grant to states. The Ohio Department of Development will provide the funds to the awardees.

“There is certainly a digital divide in different areas of the county,” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said. “There are dead zones and limited internet access depending where you are located. We are using the results from the broadband feasibility study to create a lake to river connectivity backbone along state Route 11.”

Cantalamessa wants to use much of the approximately $1.8 million remaining from the American Rescue Plan fund for the county’s broadband expansion effort.

According to a 2021 state analysis of broadband availability, approximately 40% of Trumbull County does not have adequate high speed internet access. This area percentage includes 13% of the county’s households having little to no broadband access.

The areas most affected by this access are in the county’s less populated northern tier.

Approximately 6,026 Trumbull households have low to no internet services because of low to no high speed broadband availability, according to the Broadband Ohio report.

In Ashtabula, approximately 65% of the populated area, which includes 35% of the county’s households, had limited to no internet access in 2021. This affected 9,106 of Ashtabula’s households.

Approximately 27% of Mahoning County’s populated area, which includes 10% of its households, had limited to no internet access during this period. That represented 5,395 households.

Cantalamessa described Trumbull County working with different organizations, including the Oak Hill Collaborative, that has been providing laptops to area schools.

“We worked with agencies to provide discounts to services used by individuals and families to provide them relief,” Cantalamessa said. “It really has been a multi-faceted approach.”

The commissioner emphasized the need to expand broadband internet speeds to continue to grow in the future in schools, in the homes of individual families and in developing future work force opportunities in the Mahoning Valley.

Coggins said the feasibility study also will be used for the county’s efforts to obtain a National Telecommunication and Information Administration grant.

In addition to doing the foundational work needed for BEAD, Coggins said Trumbull leaders are working with their counterparts to do a engineering analysis for the placement of fiber optic and other lines.

Coggins noted if the three Mahoning Valley counties receive any of the BEAD funds, they will concentrate using the awards first to the areas that do not have broadband services and those that have slow services.

Ohio, in the meantime, has had two rounds of residential broadband applications and awards for private businesses to be able to lay some fiber optic lines.

“Some of these companies, such as Brightspeed Fiber Internet, have received letters of support from the county to begin laying fiber lines needed to provide the internet services,” Coggins said.

Brightspeed this week announced it has crews working to connect another 2,600 local homes and businesses with Brightspeed Fiber Internet in communities like Warren, Howland Center, Champion Heights and Warren’s Oak Knoll neighborhood. When construction is finished, more than 33,000 will have access to the most future-proof network available.

Brightspeed is pursuing state and federal funding to augment its current fiber network build plan in Ohio to help close the digital divide across the state’s counties.

Have an interesting news story? Email Raymond Smith at rsmith@tribtoday.com


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