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We cannot afford to wait for broadband

We were thrilled to see the feasibility study commissioned by Eastgate Regional Council of Governments lay out a plan to bring high-speed broadband to Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula and possibly Columbiana counties.

What we aren’t so thrilled with, though, is the plan’s timeline that estimates it will take until at least the end of 2024 to get the broadband cables in place.

Lindsay Miller of Ice Miller Whiteboard in Columbus, which did the study with MS Consultants Inc. of Youngstown, said during a recent meeting at Eastgate’s office that smaller projects would be done earlier, and the goal for the entire line along state Route 11 is to be finished by the end of 2024.

“Broadband takes time,” Miller said.

That’s frustrating not only to us, but to every resident of underserved areas of our Mahoning Valley. Certainly, there must be a way to drive home the need and urgency of this project to both government and private industry involved.

Portions of the counties, including northern Trumbull and southern Mahoning, have no broadband coverage, according to the study. The study found 39,962 households in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties have no internet access. That’s 18 percent of the three counties compared with 15 percent for the state of Ohio.

Also, several areas have slow coverage. Areas with lower population density experience lower broadband availability, and a lack of choice among broadband providers further impacts availability and affordability, Miller said.

As we pointed out previously in this space, it’s virtually impossible to conduct business or educate our youth without fast internet access and Wi-Fi service. Its vital role in helping many people survive the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed underscores its importance even more.

And according to Jim Kinnick, Eastgate executive director, it’s not only rural areas in dire need of improved internet access; many urban areas remain underserved as well. Kinnick said studies show Youngstown ranks second-worst in broadband accessibility among communities of 5,000 or more in the state, and Warren ranks as fifth-worst in Ohio.

Undoubtedly, usage of a new system would be in high demand, transforming our Valley and preparing it for future growth and development.

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments represents Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. The project would serve about 620,000 people in the four counties.

Without Columbiana County, the project is projected to cost $12 million. For all four counties, it would be $15 million.

There are a number of funding options, Miller said.

That includes seeking state capital budget funding next year as well as applying for various federal grants, using American Recovery Plan funds given to the counties and other local governments, continuing to work with BroadbandOhio on state funding and requesting money from the $250 million approved late Monday by the state Legislature for broadband internet.

Availability of those funds are a plus, along with the possibility of using some of the American Recovery Plan funds being awarded to Mahoning and Trumbull counties, along with other local municipalities.

We urge the continued discussions about what pooling these resources can do to assist in long-term economic development. We are convinced high-speed broadband will play a meaningful role in that effort.

As our elected officials begin plotting out plans for spending ARP funds, various public department heads and economic development agencies have not been shy about speaking up and getting in line for the funds.

Allocating this money properly will be a challenge — but what a wonderful opportunity we have here.

We urge all our elected leaders and their counterparts in the private sector to work together to find the most efficient way to fund and install the needed infrastructure to bring needed broadband to our area.

And we urge these organizations to do it quickly. We must do what we can on our end to ensure no more time is wasted.

Frankly, we can’t afford to wait until 2024.

editorial@vindy.com

SCRIPTURE

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:16 NIV

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