Broadband access still lacking in region

Potential solutions in Congress are elusive

Since the connectivity summit held in Marietta last July, the plight of Appalachian broadband deserts has caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

“At this time the Citizen’s Connectivity Committee is particularly interested in four of the most recent bills,” noted Liz Shaw, organizer of the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit and Town Hall held at Washington State Community College and Marietta High School last year.

The four bills cover support for community and municipal enterprise of broadband systems, call for additional mapping of broadband deserts, look to strategic planning of highway-fiber optic coordination and streamline additions to established poles for new wiring and equipment.

The four bills are:

¯ The Community Broadband Act of 2018.


¯ Climb Once Act.

¯ Dig Once Act of 2018.

But all four do not have equal local support.

“While there is nothing wrong with maps that show broadband distribution, there are flaws with the logic that broadband cannot be built out without new maps that will take time and incur significant expense,” said Shaw.

Indeed there was a 2017 study performed by the Federal Communications commission in 2017 mapping broadband health that is already available to all internet service providers looking to build out and the general public looking for data.

The catch –you need internet to access the data.

“It is our belief that carriers are quite aware of the areas where they provide service and the areas where they refuse to provide service,” said Shaw. “The lack of affordable, accessible, reliable broadband in rural America is not a mapping problem, but a political problem that promotes the shielding of incumbent carriers from bringing broadband to rural America, especially in Congressman (Bill) Johnson’s Appalachian district and Congressman (Brett) Guthrie’s predominantly rural (Kentucky) district.”

But Congressman Johnson, representing the Sixth District of Ohio, further explained his reasoning on the MAPPING NOW legislation Friday.

“Specifically, the MAPPING NOW legislation that I have introduced directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to reinvigorate the map, which is needed because the current map is outdated (from 2014), is no longer updated and is inaccurate,” said Johnson. “For example, data is currently collected for the map at the census block level — if one home in a census block has access to broadband, then the entire census block is deemed to have broadband. This gives a false impression of broadband connectivity in rural America, and we can do better — we must do better — to effectively target the unserved and underserved communities.”

Shaw said further mapping would be more expense than needed to incentivize rollout in broadband deserts.

“The bottom line is every carrier has good maps and knows where they are and where they’re not. This is just kicking the can down the road,” she said.

Of the other bills though, Shaw said the connectivity committee supports their premise because of the little to no cost each would incur if passed.

“They’re action oriented,” she said.

The “Dig Once” and “Climb Once” bills go hand in hand, focusing on the need for better planning and fewer barriers to expand service as roads are updated and poles are erected.

Shaw focused much of her support behind the community broadband act, saying it’s proactive in preventing the majority of states from standing behind telecommunications companies instead of their own people.

“Twenty states have passed barrier laws to prohibit or restrict community broadband initiatives as a way to shield carriers from competition,” she explained. “And with telecommunications companies refusing to roll out because of the bottom line it’s up to the communities and municipalities to take the reigns. It can be done and has been done. If the carriers did have the competition then they might see the value in getting into these small and rural communities.”

Johnson said further discussion and “fine tuning” of all four bills will continue on Tuesday in the Telecommunications Subcommittee, on which he serves.

“I’m supportive of each of these bills conceptually – they have all been drafted with the aim of improving rural broadband infrastructure and connectivity,” he said. “This is an issue I’ve been focused on for some time now. Meeting with stakeholders, businesses and individuals who are directly affected by the lack of service, and holding roundtables throughout Eastern and Southeastern Ohio is something I will continue to do… I’m working with my colleagues in Washington to ensure that rural Appalachia doesn’t get left behind yet again.”

In the U.S. Senate, Ohio’s plight in terms of broadband deserts is also on the mind of Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“Increasing access to broadband is essential to southeast Ohio communities, students and businesses,” he said Friday. “Reliable access to broadband helps Ohioans compete in the global economy, and we need more dedicated sources of federal funding to expand and develop broadband infrastructure in the region.”

Brown’s office also noted that his work on the 2018 Farm Bill in the senate also holds provisions to provide loan guarantees to providers offering broadband service in underserved areas and in the blueprint for rebuilding and repairing aged infrastructure in the county introduced by Brown last year, there are funding provisions to update broadband systems.

By the numbers

Broadband access:

Washington County:

¯ Number of Providers : 13.

¯ Fixed Broadband : 73.6 percent availability.

¯ Fixed Download : 73.7 percent availability

¯ Fixed Upload : 73.6 percent availability.

¯ Most Common Download : 1,000 megabytes per second.

¯ Most Common Upload : 50 – 100 megabytes per second.

¯ Internet Adoption: 60 – 80 percent.

By the numbers

Monroe County:

¯ Number of Providers : 11

¯ Fixed Broadband : zero percent availability.

¯ Fixed Download : zero percent availability.

¯ Fixed Upload : zero percent availability.

¯ Most Common Download : 15 – 25 megabytes per second.

¯ Most Common Upload : 1 – 3 megabytes per second.

¯ Internet Adoption : 40 – 60 percent.

Noble County:

¯ Number of Providers : 10.

¯ Fixed Broadband : 51.4 percent availability.

¯ Fixed Download : 51.7 percent availability.

¯ Fixed Upload : 51.4 percent availability.

¯ Most Common Download : 50 – 100 megabytes per second.

¯ Most Common Upload : 4 – 6 megabytes per second.

¯ Internet Adoption: 40 – 60 percent.

Morgan County:

¯ Number of Providers : 9.

¯ Fixed Broadband : 49.4 percent availability.

¯ Fixed Download : 51.2 percent availability.

¯ Fixed Upload : 49.4 percent availability.

¯ Most Common Download : 15 – 25 megabytes per second.

¯ Most Common Upload : 1 – 3 megabytes per second.

¯ Internet Adoption: 40 – 60 percent.

Source: Federal Communications Commission, Mapping Broadband Health in America 2017 study.