Broadband access in Athens County just got a boost from Spectrum Internet, one of the largest internet service companies in the country.
At a celebration at the Ohio University Inn and Conference Center on Friday morning, representatives from Charter Communications and Spectrum announced the completion of a new 20-mile fiber build that gives broadband access to more than 2,400 houses and businesses in rural parts of the county.
“Broadband is a life-changing opportunity for our consumers,” Ron Testa, the area vice president for field operations, said.
The 20-mile fiber build is primarily located near the southwest corner of the county in rural areas near The Plains, Athens and Albany.
Alongside the company representatives, state and local politicians like Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, State Rep. Jay Edwards and Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel helped to announce the new upgrades.
“The expansion of broadband into rural Ohio is something that Governor DeWine and I have as among one of our top priorities,” Husted said. “You cannot participate in the modern economy, the modern education system, the modern healthcare system without that access.”
Husted, a Republican, gave credit to InnovateOhio, which gives resources toward projects like the Ohio Broadband strategy, which seeks to challenge the private sector to be apart of solutions to issues like rural broadband.
“It's not something (Spectrum) has to do. It is something they chose to do,” Husted said.
Access to Spectrum’s services began in December after the completion of the project. If households and businesses choose to opt-in, they get access to internet starting speeds of 100 megabits per second, with connections available up to 1 gigabit per second according to a press release.
“This isn’t a subpar rural service,” Testa said. “This is the same service that our customers in Los Angeles or Cincinnati or New York City receive.”
According to a recent study by OU, the Buckeye Hills Regional Council and the Athens County Economic Development Council, 80-90% of households in the rural expanse of Athens County have no access to broadband services. “Rural expanse” is defined by the study as areas with 20 or fewer households per square mile.
The study also points out that 75% of the area lacks availability of broadband, mobile data and voice services. Degradation of basic telephone services, due to deteriorating copper cables, also leaves affected areas without crucial life and safety communications.
The Appalachian Regional Commission, which is currently co-chaired by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, funded this study, recommends a number of solutions, including creating a $500 million broadband fund for projects that connect unserved and underserved rural households and businesses.
In the last two years, Charter Communications and Spectrum have invested over $900 million in technology and infrastructure in Ohio. This includes nearly 60,000 homes and businesses in the state.
Edwards, the Republican majority whip of the Ohio Statehouse who represents Ohio’s 94th district, said expanding rural broadband is a priority for the state legislature and has resulted in a number of bills to try and address it and incentivize free markets and business leaders to the region.
All of the event's speakers emphasized that growing access to broadband networks is an asset to businesses that already exist in the county and could attract new businesses to the area now that this utility is available.
“When you add broadband, that number is going to go up, and all of a sudden, that business ratio goes up,” Testa said.
Chmiel, a Democrat, said he thinks the expansion will benefit people in Athens County but is hoping to see more competition expand into rural parts of the county. He said this could ultimately drive prices down.
“It’s a tough market because we have a lot of poor people who don’t have a lot of money to pay for services,” Chmiel said. “It’s great that they’re making this investment.”
In order to get access to the new network, customers can pay a minimum of $49.99 for 12 months with upgraded options that include TV and faster speeds.