MOUNT VERNON — A small group of local officials met with Connect Ohio coordinator David Davidson on Tuesday to review broadband progress in the state. Connect Ohio is Gov. Ted Strickland’s task force charged with facilitating the spread of broadband technology throughout the state, rather in the manner of rural electrification of America from the early to middle years of the 20th century.
Davidson was not discouraged by the small number who showed up for the meeting.
“Local leadership drives these projects,” Davidson said, “but it always comes down to a vital few.”
The few included Darrel Severns, Regional Planning Commision secretary; Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis; Matthew Kurtz, Knox County Department of Job & Family Services; and Marialice Kollar, Fredericktown City Schools’ Information Technology coordinator. Other officials involved with the project but not in attendance are John Chidester, director of the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County; Knox County Commissioner Allen Stockberger; Peg Tazewell, Knox County Head Start; Jennifer Odenweller of the United Way of Knox County; and leaders from the County Township Association.
Davidson said plans in the works could have an impact on Knox County in terms of federal stimulus money. Davidson said that Rep. Zack Space’s Connecting Appalachia plan has applied for $80 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That plan would help fund the installation of an infrastructure of fiber-optic cable throughout the 32 counties of Appalachian Ohio, which would include Knox.
The county is already partially wired for broadband, although some communities and most rural areas remain restricted to dial-up or low-bandwidth DSL. Broadband technology allows the transmission of vast amounts of computerized data at high speed.
Implementation of this technology has been identified as a key component for allowing rural locales to compete economically with the nation’s urban and suburban areas.
Mavis said government tends to respond to the squeaky wheel, and that since he hasn’t heard much demand for improved Internet connectivity, it hasn’t been high on his list of priorities.
“I don’t feel pushed to do anything about this,” Mavis said, saying that companies in Mount Vernon he has talked with are satisfied with their current data capabilities. He said that if opportunities emerge to work with local service providers to position the city of Mount Vernon without extensive investment, he will pursue it. Meanwhile, he said, it might be best to wait and see what happens with the Connecting Appalachia proposal.
Severns said that, likewise, he has not heard a huge demand from outlying areas, some of which have dial-up Internet, or a satellite connection.
Kollar said the question remains, however, are people in rural areas aware of the economic tool broadband could be? She said part of the initiatives had to include educating people how to use broadband communications for business applications.
Mavis agreed, pointing out that recent work planning the next phase of the DKMM Solid Waste District turned up the fact that in the organization’s last charter period, over $40,000 was spent on paper alone. He said officials working with DKMM hope to change that so that more of its official business is conducted over e-mail, wasting less paper.
Mavis was charged with contacting the County Township Association to make sure it was on board with the program. He said he would also check with local service provider Safety Net to see what, if any, progress it has made toward creating local systems. Kurtz will contact ECR to see what its interest would be in developing rural broadband service in Knox County.
Davidson said he will talk with Stockberger and Chidester, particularly the latter, as a statewide application for funding has been put in which would, if granted, provide $18 million to $19 million for equipment for public use, such as computers in public libraries, classes for adults to learn computer skills, public relations to promote usage and assistance for low-income residents to acquire computers.
As the Connect Ohio project continues, the goal is to have various local leaders pushing for funding by applying for grants so that the county will be poised to meet any projects spurred by Space’s Connecting Appalachia initiative. Davidson said that Ohio in general has good chances to get stimulus money grants because Connect Ohio has mapped out broadband status throughout the state and supported it with data, something many states have not done. Appalachia also stands out from the crowd as an economically challenged region.
Further information about Connect Ohio can be found at the project’s Web site, www.connectohio.org.