County-run fiber network considered

WARREN — The Trumbull County Planning Commission intends to apply for a grant that would fund half the cost of a study to determine the feasibility of creating a county-owned fiber optic broadband network.

The network, if implemented, would provide faster, cheaper internet access to the county, said Shane Burkholder, a comprehensive planning specialist with the commission.

It is something other counties and cities across the country have implemented, including Medina County and Hudson.

The study is likely to cost about $100,000 and will explore, among other things, the viability of the county’s ability to create a department to manage the network under a provider, Burkholder said.

“It is the necessary first step toward joining the other communities in Ohio that have managed to transition between the industrial and post-industrial economies,” stated Nicholas Coggins, acting director of the planning commission.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration distributes the grants.

If the idea moves forward, the county would tap into a broadband provider’s main lines and then start building lines to reach businesses. Eventually, the goal is to offer the service to residential customers, Burkholder said.

Hudson spent $3.4 million to develop a 60-mile business network, according to the city’s website. It will cost an additional $17.5 million to build the rest of the network and to connect to each home, according to the website.

“It will cost millions, but there are ways — through grants and bonds. It would be a huge game changer. It could put Trumbull County on the map, nationally, maybe even globally,” Burkholder said.

Burkholder said the network has been great for businesses in Hudson and would be great for business districts in Trumbull County.

“Hudson has been extremely successful, the access to fiber has encouraged business growth,” Burkholder said. “Now, if you want to start a business in Trumbull County, there are only a few large companies to choose from. And they can get away with charging thousands and thousands of dollars to create a connection. That is probably fine for a larger corporation or a bigger operation, but it discourages entrepreneurs, the smaller business owners,” Burkholder said.

Fiber is “cheaper to hook up, cheaper per month and offers better service,” Burkholder said.

While the federal government views high quality internet access as infrastructure, the state government has not caught up yet, Burkholder said.

Getting a network in Trumbull County could, eventually, solve internet accessibility issues in more rural parts of Trumbull County.

If the project kicks off, the county would look for other communities to participate as partners, Burkholder said.

The network can be compared to the street and highway system, Burkholder said.

The provider would offer the large, main lines, like the interstate; the county would offer the medium-sized lines, like state routes; and the communities within the county would take care of the lines branching into their neighborhoods, like municipal or township roads.

“It would lay the ground work for many future endeavors,” Burkholder said.

Fiber optic line access can increase property values and set the stage for communitywide wireless internet, according to Hudson’s website.

Hudson offers businesses access to internet speeds ranging from 100×100 megabits per second up to 10 Gigabits per second, according to the website.

“This is the next big thing. If we don’t get ahead of it, we will never catch up,” Burkholder said.

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