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Public-private partnership brings affordable internet to thousands in Tuscarawas County

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Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 18:34:18-05

DOVER, Ohio — So many of us live in a fast-paced, well-connected world, with access to high-speed internet anytime we want it, but for nearly one million Ohioans, high-speed internet is a luxury and not a necessity.

JobsOhio is hoping to change that through its Digital Access Ohio Initiative. According to its website, it is a program "that builds, owns, and operates new fiber-backed infrastructure and partner with local internet providers to not only alleviate the digital divide but strengthen Ohio’s competitive advantage."

The newest installment: Tuscarawas County.

Monday, Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted traveled to Dover to activate a broadband tower.

It’s a tower that is visible from the event center at Breitenbach Wine Cellars. Dalton Bixler opened Breitenbach Winery about 50 years ago and he’s watched it grow.

“The first year, I only made about 5,000 gallons and now we make 120,000 gallons of wine a year,” Bixler said.

He said where he is located is near Amish Country and its a, mainly, rural area.

“It’s kind of a mini-paradise,” he said. “A quiet, farming area.”

But, he said looking at the new broadband tower just a mile off of his property gives him hope for growth in the community.

“We’re now connected to anywhere in the world,” he said.

Chris Abbuhl is a Tuscarawas County Commissioner. He said affordable access to high-speed internet is something he’s been trying to bring to the county for years.

“It’s really vitally important for the next generation to be able to have the access,” he said.

He mentioned the digital divide in the county’s rural areas became painstakingly clear during the pandemic.

“We had school kids that had to go do their homework at a hotspot, either a church parking lot or a school parking lot and their parents would drop them off. They had Chromebooks that were useless at home because there’s no access in rural areas for them to be able to use their Chromebooks,” he said.

JobsOhio’s Digital Access Ohio was an opportunity for Abbuhl and other leaders to get the access the county needed. The state builds the infrastructure, which was part of the problem for rural areas like Dover in the past.

“We have a lot of hilly areas, so it’s not always easy to do direct access by cable we need to do some wireless,” said Abbuhl. “A provider is not going to extend out to the rural areas if they can’t do a return on investment, so that’s why we have public-private partnerships to go together to get the access out to them.”

The new broadband tower will provide affordable access to approximately 2,500 homes and around 125 businesses, places that either had no internet or extremely slow internet.

“There’s so many applications that this can be used for that is vital, education, agriculture, business development, entrepreneurs, just a number of things, a quality of life,” he said.

Bixler said his internet has already increased in speed, but the real advantage to him is more people living, working and enjoying the rural area that he calls home.

“Bring all that knowledge, start new businesses, start families here. It’s good for the community. It’s good for everybody,” he said.

Abbuhl said this is just the start of bridging the digital divide for the county. He said county leaders are looking at how to use ARPA funds and find other grant money to connect the entire county.

“The cost of not doing it is much greater than what the cost is of doing it would be,” he said.

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