Congressman Zack Space (OH-18) in February revealed a plan called the “Connecting Appalachia Broadband Plan.” The plan is designed to bring various development commissions together to find ways to make the plan happen.
“The Connecting Appalachia Broadband Plan is a comprehensive approach to bringing high-speed Internet service to attract new businesses, create jobs, and put the necessary infrastructure in place to support sustainable economic development,” Space said in a prepared statement.
He said the plan would be able to create the conditions necessary to support modern industry and business, providing them with the broadband technology companies need to compete.
“Never before has our region seen such cooperation united behind a common goal – connecting Appalachia. There is no doubt that high-speed Internet is vital infrastructure necessary to support long-term economic growth. This is an ambitious plan, and we have much work still to be done, but we have made a very significant step toward making this goal a reality,” Space said.
There are three development districts that cover southeastern Ohio. This is the first time the three districts have come together to work on this project. All three districts will work to obtain funding to implement the plan.
Of the requested funds it involves the Southern Ohio Health Care Network (SOHCN) which is a consortium of health care providers serving 2 million people across 34 rural counties, including the 10 poorest and all six Appalachian Regional Commission-distressed counties in Ohio, according to the project description given by the OVRDC in their request for the money.
Of the requested moneys $28 million would be used to purchase telemedicine equipment. The project is expected to create 410 jobs.
Another proposed project would bring broadband infrastructure to 34 industrial parks in 34 counties. This project would use the Southern Ohio Health Care Network as a backbone. The estimated project cost would be more than $23 million and is expected to create 270 jobs.
One proposed project would fund Space’s broadband plan in bringing broadband access to 34 counties. This would also use the Southern Ohio Health Care Network as a backbone.
According to the proposal, “the large infrastructure creates jobs immediately, stimulating the growth of wireless Internet service providers.” The project is expected to cost $42 million and would be expected to create 725 jobs.
OVRDC is also requesting $21 million from the Federal Communications Commission to expand the Southern Ohio Health Care Network. The group has submitted a $9 million request to cover the local match and provide upgrades to the overall network. The project is expected to create 1,400 jobs.
“We got excited about this because it was finally someone talking about getting beyond studying the problem. This was an effort to make something happen,” John Hemmings, executive director of the OVRDC said.
If the money is awarded for the projects it will then be awarded to local and national internet service providers who will bid on putting the infrastructure in.
“We have got to try to make this happen. I say if this does not happen now, our opportunity to make it happen fizzles,” he said. “It will have to be phased-in in the future. We will not have that kind of funding available.”
OVRDC is in the process of putting together their regional strategic plan update. “As part of that we have met with all of our counties, and have asked them what their needs were. About every county that we met with broadband access was an issue,” he said.
The Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association (OMEGA), Buckeye Hills – Hocking Valley Regional Development District, and the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (OVRDC) are all partners in this project. The group has also been working extensively with the Governor’s Office of Appalachia.
The counties which the plan would encompass include Scioto, Adams, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Clermont, Columbiana, Coshocton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Tuscarawas, Vinton, and Washington.
The Associated Press contributed to the story. Wayne Allen can be reached at 353-1151 ext. 208.