Lancaster, OH -
The Fairfield County Engineer's office announced today the reduction of restrictions for laying fiber cables which will initially open up broadband access to 750 homes and small businesses.
The announcement comes on the heels of a recent study conducted by Connect Ohio in partnership with the Fairfield 33 Development Alliance that showed high demand for broadband access in rural areas of the county. U.S. Representative Steve Stivers has also challenged local governments to focus on providing high-speed internet to rural residents.
"In the 21st Century, broadband is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. That's why I am committed to bridging the digital divide in our communities," said Stivers. "Today's announcement is an exciting development in the effort to get more homes connected in Southeast Ohio."
Eighty-seven percent of the county has access to at least 25 Megabyte per second internet, which is higher than many rural counties. But more than 38 percent of those households only have one choice for a fixed internet provider. The study showed that the largest gap in digital equity can be found in Amanda, Hocking, Clear Creek and Madison townships as well as lower income households. An agreement between Fairfield County and broadband provider Intelliwave will first target Hocking and Madison townships to help close that gap.
"I think the study reaffirms that Fairfield County residents are using technology at a high rate but there's a demand for better service," said Rick Szabrak, Fairfield County Economic and Workforce Development Director. "I hope broadband providers see this need and expand in our county. Broadband is important in rural areas so farms can remain competitive and technology can be used to help educate students."
The Engineer's office has lowered the minimum depth to lay fiber on county right-of-way by two feet and will allow more cost effective ways to lay the cable. The providers will be required to secure a bond with the county to ensure that any damage done to farm tiles or roadways will be covered.
"There is a strong demand for better internet service," said Jeremiah Upp, Fairfield County Engineer. "Making these changes will require more work and risk taking on our end, but it's critical to level the playing field when it comes to technology for our rural students, farmers and businesses."
Athens-based Intelliwave worked closely with the engineer's office on the changes in order to expand its fiber optic broadband service.
"The digital divide in Fairfield County has just narrowed," said Chris Cooper, Intelliwave CEO. "Intelliwave's mission for the past 15 years has been to bring the highest quality internet service we can to the underserved areas of our region."