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Connect Ohio wants Internet access for all

April 6, 2011
By Ashley Hill ( , The Marietta Times

In January, the Washington County commissioners signed agreements with the state to utilize Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) towers in and near the county to provide high-speed Internet service to county residents.

Now, county officials are working with Connect Ohio to complete a signal propagation study and develop a business model which will show a wireless Internet service provider how many residents will likely utilize the service.

Connect Ohio is a Columbus-based not-for-profit group that aims to make affordable high-speed Internet service available to every household in the state.

"There's going to be a varying take rate- meaning who is going to sign up for the service - but in order for a wireless Internet service provider to decide to do business in our county, we have to show them it will make economic sense for them," said Washington County IT director Eric Skomra.

MARCS towers are used by police and other agencies to communicate with portable radios. The tower system, constructed six years ago, is capable of providing wireless high-speed Internet access with the addition of a few antennas. A total of 10 towers are expected to be utilized, Skomra said.

Local officials have said more than 55 percent of homes in the county do not have access to high-speed Internet.

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Broadband service

About county-wide broadband Internet service:

Antennas will be placed on 10 Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) towers in Washington County and surrounding counties which will enable residents who can see those towers to access high-speed Internet.

The county is currently working with Connect Ohio to complete a signal propagation study, which will show an Internet service provider how many residents would likely utilize the service.

It is not known exactly when the service will become available, but it will likely cost around $40 per month.

County officials will not operate the business venture, but the agreements signed by the commissioners allow a company to contract with the county for the use of the towers.

Skomra said in the beginning of April, requests for proposals for an Internet service provider will likely be released.

He said only those residents who can see the towers will be able to access high-speed Internet, which is why he has scheduled meetings with all of the county's water associations to see if they'd be willing to have antennas placed on their water tanks.

He said the Highland Ridge Water Association already agreed to do so.

"That will be included in the requests for proposals to show an Internet service provider we have locations for them," Washington County Commissioner Cora Marshall said.

"I have also received calls from residents who have very high hill tops stating, 'If you want to put a tower on my place, call me' or 'If you want to pang something off my silo, let me know'...that's what we need," Skomra added.

Those who want to utilize the high-speed Internet once it becomes available will be required to purchase an antenna for their home, which Skomra said will likely cost between $100 and $200.

The county is trying to secure grants to help low and moderate income families cover the cost of the antenna but is seeking assistance from business owners in the county to do so.

"I really need immediately to hear from small, medium and large business owners that could say, 'I could retain or I would hire people because of this service,'" Skomra said. "What they're looking for is (whether it would) enable more people to be employed or to keep their jobs."

Skomra said it's too early to pinpoint when the service will become available, but the requests for proposals will ask that the service not cost more than average high speed Internet, which is about $40 a month.



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