Nick McWilliams reporting – A broadband expansion into the most rural portions of Ohio got its jumping-off point Monday in the western portion of Tuscarawas County.

Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, along with members of SmartWay Communications and Jobs Ohio, unveiled the plans involving bridging the gap for high-speed internet access in areas with difficult typography, or that did not benefit from private sector expansion due to cost.

Husted said after speaking before a packed house at the Tool Shed at Breitenbach Winery that access is now granted for companies like SmartWay to utilize existing towers and infrastructure to place internet access points through Digital Access Ohio.

DAO, formed by Agile Network in Canton, helps solve internet connectivity issues in rural areas right now, rather than years down the road, according to SmartWay General Manager Ryan Grewell.

“It will reduce costs on our end, especially. So, we’re not having to maintain those vertical assets. That’s Digital Access Ohio’s side. While they’re focusing on building and maintaining the vertical assets and the infrastructure, or the middle mile, we are the last mile. So we’re not having to focus on the towers as much. We’re able to go out, and get it solved.” 

The first tower under the plan was activated recently, and sits on Spooky Hollow Road across from Dutch Valley Restaurant, and provides access to an estimated 2,400 homes and over 100 businesses.

JobsOhio invested funds to help jumpstart the expansion, buying into the idea of a more connected and well-trained workforce coming from their access to dependable internet.

Husted says that bridging the gap for last-mile broadband capabilities will eliminate high construction costs preventing buildouts from the private sector, and will put Ohio at a distinct advantage economically when compared to other Appalachian states.

“It’s important to Ohio, to help businesses connect in rural Ohio to help people have access to careers and health and educational opportunities that they would have never had before. This isn’t happening everywhere. This is creating opportunities for unserved and underserved communities. To change their economic future.”

The full buildout could take four to five years, according to Husted and Press Secretary Hayley Carducci.

According to speed tests conducted by SmartWay, broadband speeds have improved in the Sugarcreek area where the new tower was erected by around 520 megabits-per-second.

The full DAO program will construct 75 new sites, spread around Tuscarawas, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, and other counties, and 135 additional access points are planned for existing towers.

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