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Group seeks to bridge the digital divide

Hopes to open Trumbull office

WARREN — The Oak Hill Collaborative, a Youngstown-based group that promotes internet access and computer literacy, wants to put an office and two full-time employees in Trumbull County.

Oak Hill Director Patrick Kerrigan said Wednesday that his goal is to have two Oak Hill Collaborative employees in Trumbull County — one funded by the city of Warren and another by the county — for facilities and possibly a part-time receptionist.

Kerrigan told Trumbull County commissioners at their meeting Wednesday that statistics show Warren is the fifth-least digitally connected city in Ohio and Trumbull County is “high on the list, which is not a good list to be on.”

Oak Hill aims to increase internet accessibility by spreading the word about government-subsidized Internet, offering computer and technology workshops, and, when possible, providing discount laptops for around $100 or at the completion of a series of classes, Kerrigan said.

At its facility at 507 Oak Hill Ave., Youngstown, Oak Hill has a computer lab, half a dozen 3D printers and other tools for learning and creation. Kerrigan told commissioners that eventually Oak Hill would like to have similar facilities in Trumbull County.

He said he has already been in conversation with the city of Warren and Oak Hill has a tentative, informal agreement to set up a base of operations at Trumbull Community Action Program on Palmyra Road — but Oak Hill wants to reach rural and suburban areas outside of the city as well.

Kerrigan said a county-funded Oak Hill employee would be “mobile” after Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa asked if such a person would go to libraries and senior centers in various communities.

“We definitely feel that to reach all of Trumbull County, you have to go out into the rural areas outside of the city,” Kerrigan later told the Tribune Chronicle.

He said Oak Hill had previously discussed the idea of adding an employee in Trumbull County with the county planning commission, which suggested Kerrigan bring the idea to the Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners Cantalamessa, Frank Fuda and Niki Frenchko did not make any clear commitments to the project Wednesday.

Kerrigan did not have an exact idea of what setting up an office would cost the county or the city of Warren, but said it came down to the cost of employees, rent and equipment.

Oak Hill currently has three full-time employees, including Kerrigan, and a consultant, Kerrigan said. The collaborative works with both Youngstown and Mahoning County.

Oak Hill also partners with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, which focuses on expanding internet access through broadband infrastructure, Kerrigan said.

Oak Hill, meanwhile, works to increase digital inclusion by teaching people how to use their computers effectively. Kerrigan said that feasibility studies by Oak Hill and more recently Eastgate have shown that the main reason people don’t have internet is because they think it’s too expensive, but Oak Hill feels part of that mentality is that people are not seeing the full value of connectivity.

Oak Hill also has been spreading the word about the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers $30 of month off the cost of internet from any provider for households that meet an income threshold. A household of one person is eligible if his or her income is under $25,760 annually. For a household of two, the threshold is $34,840; for a household of three it is $43,920; and for a household of four, $53,000.

“The digital divide is very real and it’s getting worse,” Kerrigan said.

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