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Husted Announces Pilot Project in SE Ohio Aimed at Broadband Expansion

 Lt. Governor Jon Husted, Director of InnovateOhio, today was joined by Matt Damschroder, Director of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services; John Carey, Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia; and community business and economic leaders to announce a new pilot project aimed at expanding broadband using existing technology through MARCS towers located in Scioto and Jackson Counties, in Southeastern Ohio.

The innovative project builds upon the goal of BroadbandOhio by enhancing and expanding high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved Ohioans, particularly those in the Appalachia region of the state, by creatively leveraging state assets.

Multi-Agency Radio Communications System towers, also known as MARCS towers, are part of a statewide, wireless, digital communication network that allows emergency and law enforcement personnel to communicate instantly during emergencies. The project announced today will give Internet Service Providers an opportunity to apply for a grant through the state to attach to six towers in Scioto and Jackson Counties, ultimately providing low-cost internet to unserved households in the area.

"I challenged our team to come up with new ideas on how we could use existing state assets to extend high-speed internet services to those who need it—today we are delivering on that challenge,” Lt. Governor Husted said. “This project has the potential to help internet service providers extend broadband to hundreds of thousands of families and businesses who need it.”

The project is made possible through collaboration between InnovateOhio, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), and the Development Services Agency (DSA). MARCS towers, which today help our emergency responders communicate in a crisis, were purchased with tax-exempt bonds, limiting the ability for private companies to co-locate equipment on the tower. However, DAS was able to convert these into taxable bonds, thereby eliminating this restriction. DAS will hold the master license agreement with the company looking to co-locate on the tower.

“Our 350 towers across Ohio are part of a system that is used more than 50 million times each month by 2,800 public service agencies,” said Director Damschroder. “We are excited to be part of this pilot project and to see if our towers can provide even greater service to Ohio’s citizens.”  

DSA will open a grant application for telecommunications providers to locate on one of these towers, at no cost to the provider. DSA will evaluate companies based upon the speeds that they will provide, the equipment used to provide the service, the range of the signal, as well as the cost of the service to the end user. The goal is to find a solution that will both bring internet to places that currently lack service and do so at an affordable price.

“We’re optimistic about this program and the positive impact it will have on families, business and communities in Scioto and Jackson counties,” Director Carey said. “The Governor’s Office of Appalachia and the Ohio Development Services Agency are committed to working with local communities to find innovative solutions to address the broadband needs in the area.”

Eligible applicants include any telecommunications provider who is interested in using the towers to broadcast an internet signal to the surrounding community. Providers will need to meet or exceed the federal definition of high-speed internet, which is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

The grant application period opens today, January 22, 2021, and will close at 5 p.m. on Friday, February 26, 2021. Grants will be awarded no later than March 31, 2021.

Visit development.ohio.gov to apply and learn more.          

Today’s launch represents another broadband expansion project that builds upon the DeWine-Husted Administration’s efforts to expand and enhance broadband connectivity for businesses and families throughout Ohio.