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Eastgate Study Calls for 'Broadband Authority' to Oversee Internet Service Overhaul

ms consultants, inc.

June 30, 2021

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments unveiled its broadband feasibility study to stakeholders Tuesday — just one day after funding for broadband was restored to the Ohio budget bill. 


Eastgate Regional Council of Governments' plan for overhauling the Valley's broadband service might lead to the creation of a new governmental authority to manage local internet infrastructure.


"We recommend the creation of a new broadband authority to ensure the consistent and thorough extension of high-speed internet service for every resident, business, and community institution in the area that desires to have it," read the broadband feasibility study Eastgate unveiled to stakeholders Tuesday.


The recommendation was that "...Eastgate pursue the creation of a publicly owned broadband network along strategic routes and in targeted areas of the region."


The meeting was hosted just one day after funding for broadband was restored to the Ohio budget bill.


GOP senators had eliminated the funding and inserted restrictive language that would have made projects like Eastgate's impossible. The language was removed and $150 million in funding was restored in the version of the budget that exited committee negotiations late Monday.


"People think of it as a rural issue. That's really not the case," said Lindsay Miller, an attorney at Ice Miller Blackboard and the lead consultant on the Eastgate study.


The study found internet was less accessible in areas with low population density; it also found lack of provider choice drives up prices, Miller explained.


The long-term goal of the study is the creation of a 100-mile fiber backbone stretching between Lake Erie and the Ohio River by the end of 2024, when American Rescue Funds must be spent.


The proposed cost is between $12 million and $15 million.


As for paying for the project the summary lists many available local, state and federal avenues. It also suggested working with a port authority which "... may, with voter approval, levy up to a one mill tax on the total value of all property within its jurisdiction. This levy, in the case of a Broadband Authority formed by the three counties could be expected to raise in excess of $3 million per year; these amounts could be used for the purposes of the Broadband Authority, to pay tax anticipation notes, or could be used to pay debt service on long term indebtedness of the Broadband Authority if the levy was tied to a bond issue."


Short-term goals include reviewing local codes for building restrictions and disseminating information about existing programs to make internet access more affordable. The study also discussed the logistics of working with local communities.


"The geographic area to be served by such network is likely large and the needs of the stakeholders within the geographic area are diverse, including both densely and sparsely populated areas. Additionally, the three-county region contains a variety of political subdivisions, including counties, townships, school districts and municipalities, all of which have limited territorial jurisdiction," the study noted.


During his visit to Youngstown last week, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted stopped at Eastgate to discuss the study. He pointed out such a massive price tag would require stakeholders to know whether people will purchase the product.


"Do you know if you built this they will come?" he asked. "As you know, you can't put $12 to $15 million of investment and not know the correct, solid answer to that question."


When asked to respond to this question, Miller said three elements impact the support for broadband projects: affordability, lack of digital skills and perceived relevancy.


"My suspicion is after COVID, that third [reason] really falls off," she said. "My anticipation is that it would be highly subscribed to."


Originally published by Mahoning Matters