LOGAN — Internet providers are vying for funding from a new state grant program that was created to help create broadband internet access for Ohioans who have long gone without.
Frontier North Inc., Nelsonville TV Cable, Inc. and Horizon Telcom, Inc. were a few of the many who submitted applications in November for the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program, according to a BroadbandOhio public record. Those three companies, among others, want to expand internet access in Hocking County.
The Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program was created by Ohio House Bill 2 earlier this year and received $250 million in funding after Gov. DeWine approved the state’s 2022-2023 fiscal budget in May.
According to a previous Logan Daily News report, the state opened applications for the grant program in September. A press release from DeWine’s office stated that projects are intended to provide internet service access of at the speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download (mbps) and three mbps per second upload to residents in “unserved” areas, meaning places that do not already have internet access by means of a retail wireline or wireless broadband service that delivers internet access at speeds of at least 10 mbps.
HB 2 aimed to bridge the “broadband funding gap” — the difference between the amount of money a broadband provider needs to construct the “last mile” of a broadband network, and the amount of money that the provider determines to be “cost-effective” for the provider’s investment in the “last mile” construction — according to a previous Logan Daily News report.
Applications for the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program were due Nov. 8. According to a statewide list of proposed service area addresses, thousands are located in Hocking County.
Potential providers and proposed projects
Frontier North, Inc., applied for funding to expand internet access in parts of Perry Township, among four other Fairfield County townships and parts of Pickaway County. The “Amanda” project aims to provide broadband service to 626 unserved homes, including some in Laurelville and Rockbridge.
Frontier North, Inc. also applied for a project centered in Bremen, but would also potentially supply internet to 332 unserved homes in parts of Logan, Marion Township, Fairfield and Perry counties.
Additionally, Frontier North, Inc. applied for funding for a Laurelville-based project, which includes 224 unserved homes in parts of Laurelville, South Bloomingville, Benton Township, Fairfield, Hocking and Pickaway counties.
“The Project Area would likely remain unserved for the foreseeable future without funded broadband infrastructure projects,” Frontier North Inc. stated in their application.
Frontier North, Inc. currently offers 50/50 download/upload mbps broadband service for $19.99 per month, 500/500 mbps broadband service for $49.99 and 948/800 mbps broadband service for $74.99 per month, its application states. It also participates in federal and/or state low-income programs. It serves 25 states nationwide.
Additionally, Frontier North, Inc. obtained letters of support from Hocking County’s state Senator Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), who represents the county in Ohio Senate District 20.
“It is my understanding that Frontier would use funds from the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to expand their fiber network broadband service and make it available to 1,900 additional households in Fairfield, Hocking and Pickaway counties,” Schaffer’s letter states. “This will make a tremendous impact for the families in those counties and (bring) much needed access to broadband service to an area that is in desperate need.”
Local company Nelsonville TV Cable, Inc. also applied for funding for various potential project locations; some as nearby as Logan, others as far south as Gallia County.
Nelsonville TV is seeking to construct 46.3 miles of “fiber-to-the-home” network infrastructure for tier two broadband internet access for 736 addresses in parts of Logan, Union Furnace and Nelsonville (Hocking County).
“Without grant support, constructing reliable wireline broadband infrastructure to the proposed project area would be cost-prohibitive,” Nelsonville TV’s application states. Its goal is to provide download/upload speeds ranging from at least 25 mbps to 200 mbps download/upload.
Proposed addresses in the Logan area include but are not limited to residences on Bobo, Buckingham and Clay Bank roads. According to its application, Nelsonville TV estimates the expansion project to cost $1,361,220 and “commits to invest” $254,650.
In November The Logan Daily News reported that the Hocking County Board of Commissioners signed a letter of support for Nelsonville TV to work with Green and Starr Townships for broadband expansion.
Green Township may use its American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funding — $269,733.98 split into two payments — for expanding internet access. Nelsonville TV’s application included the commissioners’, Starr and Green townships trustees’ letters of support, as well as several from local school districts.
The Chillicothe- and Columbus-based Chillicothe Telephone Company/Horizon Telcom, Inc. is also applying for funding to expand broadband in parts of Fayette, Hocking, Jackson, Pike, Ross and Vinton counties.
It is unspecified where Horizon Telcom, Inc. wishes to build in Hocking County, but the application cites Hocking County’s Connecting Appalachia broadband profile, a project by the Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC) of which the county is a member.
According to Connecting Appalachia, 91% of Hocking County’s populated area and 81% of households in the county do not have access to internet with speeds of 25 mbps download. The county has 416 square miles of populated area, of which 379 are unserved.
Horizon Telcom, Inc.’s application states that it currently owns and operates an extensive middle-mile fiber optic network throughout unserved areas in its project proposals and intends to “leverage this existing asset to facilitate deploying last-mile fiber.”
Horizon Telcom, Inc. estimates Hocking County’s total county cost to be over $83 million; it requested $55,920,775 and will contribute more than $22 million in cash match contributions and more than $4.4 million in in-kind contributions. Horizon Telcom, Inc. hopes to provide 772 miles of fiber with minimum download and upload speeds of 100 mbps and maximum speeds of 1,000 mbps in the county.
The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, or AT&T, is also looking at expanding the internet into Carbon Hill, Nelsonville (Hocking County), Logan, Ward Township and parts of Perry County.
In a September email Ohio Department of Development Public Information Officer Lisa Colbert said that Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (Director of InnovateOhio), Ohio Director of Development Lydia Mihalik and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Wright State University Gregory Sample were three of the five board members. On Monday Colbert added that William Goodenough and William Coley were the two additional appointees.
All board members are to serve four-year terms with possible reappointments and receive stipends; Ohio Speaker of the House Bob Cupp, R-Lima, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima and Gov. DeWine made the two latest appointments.
As for the grant program’s funding timeline, according to BroadbandOhio, application challenges are due Jan. 12, 2022 by 5 p.m. and deadlines to refile suspended applications are due two weeks after suspension. Both the application review period and award announcements may take up to 30 days.