The first handful of county residents have started benefiting from the implementation of county-wide broadband Internet access.
Several groups and officials responsible for the project gathered Thursday at the Marietta Knights of Columbus facility to celebrate the deployment of the long-awaited project.
"Our goal was to provide affordable broadband service to every citizen," said Washington County Commissioner Cora Marshall.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Officials and community members took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, celebrating the first stage of deployment of broadband Internet access that will service unserved and underserved parts of the county.
Marshall became involved in the project after visiting Coshocton County and seeing the positive effects that wide-scale Internet access had for communities there.
A surprising amount of homes in Washington County have no access to anything other than dial-up Internet. An estimated 6,000 homes and businesses could not previously have high-speed Internet access if they wanted it, said Amanda Murphy, public relations specialist for Connect Ohio, a nonprofit organization that works as a liaison between communities and broadband providers.
"Washington County was high on the priority list. It's such a large number of homes and businesses that don't have access to the Internet," she said.
Washington County Commissioners, along with representatives from Smart Networks and Connect Ohio, celebrated the initial stages of deployment of county-wide broadband access Thursday.
Currently, service provider Smart Networks has equipment on a downtown building and a Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) tower and are servicing a handful of customers.
An estimated 6,000 Washington County homes and businesses will now have access to high-speed Internet.
Smart Networks hopes to have the countywide expansion project completed by the end of 2013.
The three main goals of the project are to improve educational opportunities, attract business and provide better Internet access for first responders in the county.
After several years of trying to find a provider, the project leaped forward in August when the Washington County Commissioners signed an agreement with a local service provider. Marietta-based Smart Networks has already installed equipment on one downtown building and on one Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) tower, said Chad Henson, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Smart Networks.
The tower with equipment on it now, near Jackson Park in Marietta, reaches some customers with its 20-mile radius that had access previously but wanted improved service as well as some that had no access.
"We have countless queues of people calling in asking when they can get service," said Henson.
The next tower to receive equipment is expected to be in Beverly. He estimated that all of the equipment will be installed by the end of 2013.
Smart Networks is currently charging $49.95/month and up for Metro Ethernet business service and $29.95 to $59.95 for 4G WiMax residential service, but those prices are subject to change.
One person who is eagerly awaiting access to the faster Internet is Marietta Middle School eighth grader Jarod Knight.
Knight's family, who live in Ludlow Township, had no Internet access during his seventh grade year. Knight stayed with his grandmother three nights a week so he could complete his homework assignments with the help of her Internet service.
"Now we have Internet, but it's not very fast," he said.
Knight said he is excited to get faster Internet service because he will be able to complete his school assignments more quickly.
"I'll be able to spend more time with my family because it takes less time to research," he added.
Small business owner Eric Griffiths is one of the handful of customers already benefiting from the new broadband service. Griffiths' company, Ohio Web Pro Design, relies heavily on high-speed Internet to conduct its business.
"As a tech company, my main decision on where to locate was Internet access," he said.
Griffith added that having high-speed Internet access will give him the edge in attracting potential employees.
Knight and Griffith represent two of the three main goals of the program, improving the educational opportunities for our local youth and helping our economic development by attracting new businesses, said Marshall.
The third goal is to provide a more reliable system for first responders, she added.
Part of the project will include providing county-wide Internet hot spots that can be used by first responders such as sheriff's deputies, police and fire and EMS employees.
Those hot spots would allow for more efficiency and quicker responses in emergency situations, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
Connect Ohio Executive Director Stu Johnson also announced a partnership with Washington-Morgan Community Action which will offer computers and discounted broadband access to qualifying low-income families.
That program is funded in part by the $100,000 grant awarded to the county by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), said Marshall.
Those interested in the assistance should contact Community Action at 373-3745.