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In-Depth: Unique partnership brings high speed, low-cost internet to 'digital desert' in East Cleveland

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Posted at 4:23 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 18:29:54-04

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — As part of a unique pilot program unveiled on Wednesday morning, 1,000 homes in the city of East Cleveland - one of the most internet-starved cities in the country - will soon be eligible for high-speed, low-cost internet service. Managed by national non-profit, PCs for People, the $15 a month internet service is the result of a public-private partnership between the county, state, GE Lighting, a Savant company; Eaton and Microsoft, and others.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted joined local and county leaders for the announcement outside Mayfield Elementary School in East Cleveland. As part of the new internet service, which promises reliable internet speeds up to 50 megabits-per-second download speeds, residents living within roughly a half-mile of Mayfield Elementary will have unlimited access for the low cost of $15 per month. It will be the first time that residents in the area will have access to that kind of high-speed internet that also remains affordable, officials said.

"Everyone needs the internet to be successful. We're in East Cleveland for this project because East Cleveland has one of the worst digital connection rates in the country," said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

DeWine said the project dates back to a January 2020 tour of East Cleveland with Mayor Brandon King and continued conversations with Ohio State Sen. Kenny Yuko. After summoning the help of Husted, state officials reached out to some of the major internet service providers in the area, urging the companies to invest in East Cleveland.

"We waited and we waited. Then, [the ISPs] ended up saying, 'we're not going to make that investment to fix it.' Once we learned that, we said, 'okay, we'll fix it,'" Husted said. "Those who collaborate best are those who win. Nobody does it alone. It takes all of us coming together to solve problems."

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In addition to financial commitments from Eaton, GE Lighting, and the Microsoft Airband Initiative, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and East Cleveland Schools provided infrastructure access to support the program. Additionally, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Partnership coordinated the effort.

According to maps compiled by the FCC, large swaths of East Cleveland have minimal access to internet services. Additionally, the services that are available offer very little in terms of speed. At most, the internet services available to people in East Cleveland offer only three megabits per second upload speeds, which is often inadequate for the modern age.

"We have too many Ohioans in urban areas and too many Ohioans in rural areas who simply do not have access to the internet, who do not have broadband. Their families suffer and their children suffer," said DeWine. "The world we live in today, in 2021, if you cannot access that, you cannot fully participate in society. Broadband is, quite candidly, where we find inequity and unfairness and some of our citizens not being able to live up to their full dream."

The service works through the installation of an antenna that looks similar to a cell service antenna. Residents will be provided with a modem that has a SIM card installed that communicates with the antenna. The technology can provide high-speed internet service without significant overhead, allowing PCs for People to keep monthly rates low.

"$15 a month is enough to continue the operation the maintenance and the upgrading of the network into 5G, 6G, 7G, however many Gs we've got to keep adding on," said Bryan Mauk, the chief innovation officer at PCs for People. "We're excited to continue our work."

The program will have immense benefits for students at East Cleveland.

Shaw High School Senior Deangelo Taylor recently scored a four on the AP Computer Science exam last spring, which is a rare feat given the difficulty of the test. With dreams of possibly working in the gaming industry as an artist or designer, Taylor certainly has the aptitude.

Now he has the access too.

"I'm really thankful because it's something I enjoy doing," Taylor said. "As I was growing up, as I was progressing in my life, I started clinging to games basically as a way out from the world. Without my teacher, I wouldn't have gotten that far."

For more information on how to enroll, residents are encouraged to call 216-352-5594 or go to the program's website.

In the event of high call volume, residents are encouraged to leave a message.