Washington County officials discuss broadband

WATERTOWN – Citizens from the Watertown area expressed concerns at the progress of the countywide broadband service, during the Washington County commissioners meeting Thursday evening at the Watertown Volunteer Fire Department.

Several residents said they have been without service for several weeks with little communication from Smart Networks.

Eric Mostrom, the CEO and president of Smart Networks, was on hand to address the people on the situation in Watertown.

“We are waiting on our fiberware provider to give us what we need in order to stabilize our connection for customers,” he said. “Our provider said that it should be anywhere from five to seven days before we get what we need to fix the connection.”

Mostrom admitted that while the situation isn’t entirely Smart Networks’ fault, the customers deserve better from the company.

“Customers won’t have to pay for poor service or no service at all,” he said. “We jumped ahead of our suppliers a bit and had our towers ready to go, but it just isn’t the quality it needs to be right now.”

The company is trying to work directly with landowners and potential customers in the area to set up smaller towers to reach areas that might not regularly receive service.

“Any landowner in a rural area with a high point that we could put something to strengthen our signal will help us reach more homes,” said Chad Henson with Smart Networks.

The countywide broadband service was a project started by commissioners that involved leasing Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) towers from the state of Ohio, said Tim Irvine, Washington County commissioner.

“The county isn’t in the Internet business, so essentially we secured the towers from the state in order to lease to an Internet service provider like Smart Networks,” said Irvine. “Now that they lease the towers from us, it’s their job to get the service deployed and to get customers signed up.”

While the program has been in development for quite some time, Smart Networks has only been providing the service for a few months.

According to Mostrom, the agreements for the contract were signed in August 2012 and the company began working on the service in September.

Smart Networks hasn’t had trouble with every area where it has deployed the broadband.

“So far the Devola and Marietta areas are up and running with no trouble at all, but parts of Waterford, Beverly and Watertown are experiencing difficulties,” said Henson. “Not only are we expecting those areas to be corrected shortly, but the Belpre area should have service available very soon.”

Irvine said there was a huge need for the project when he and two former commissioners began the project and that need hasn’t diminished.

“There was something around like 6,000 homes across the county with dial-up or no Internet access at all,” he said. “Still so much of the county has little or no broadband access.”