Washington County Commission, internet providers meet

MARIETTA — Internet providers from around the area gathered for a roundtable discussion after the regular business meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners Thursday.

The meeting was held so the providers and commissioners could talk about the obstacles keeping the area from having better internet service.

“We want the providers in Washington County to be able to work together and at least keep us informed as we chart this course and move forward with whatever the federal government has promised,” said Commission President Ron Feathers.

On Jan. 22, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai met with local leaders about federal money that will be available for broadband service. The commissioners said they wanted to hear input from local providers so they could take their concerns back to U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

“We’re not here to offer you any solutions. We’re not here to offer you any money,” Feathers said. “We want to hear from you. What are your obstacles, your vision, what’s your mission? The good, the bad and the ugly.”

Chris Cooper, CEO of IntelliWave Broadband based in Athens, said he does not serve Washington County, but he’s had an issue with the permitting process. He said the process is fractured, with municipalities, county engineers and township trustees all having different rules.

“People often have construction requirements,” he said. “When it comes to county engineers, they are generally people who approve or disapprove construction permits. We’ve entirely abandoned some counties because we couldn’t get permits.”

He said if the guidelines were streamlined, it would make things easier.

Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said if a company wants to bury fiber optic in the county, it cannot be done in a right of way.

“You have very limited ability to develop our communities,” he said. “We have, normally, a hillside and a ravine. If we come into an area that has water, we would run the water line, we can’t put it on the side of the road where we’re going to have a landslip. So we run it on the left or the right. We only have one side of the road.”

He said if fiber optic is buried on the side that won’t develop a road slip, it wouldn’t give enough room for the county’s water lines.

“There’s never enough room to fit you, and the water, in the same place,” Wright explained. “So you’ve effectively killed that community. They’ll have fiber, but they’ll never have public water they don’t currently have.”

He said fiber can be either buried or aerial and aerial is more expensive. It can add upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 per mile to go aerial, which could be $2,000 to $3,000 extra per household.

Keith Leonard, who represented CAS Cable, said 90 percent of the lines they run are aerial.

“It does get pretty expensive, but it is standardized now,” he explained. “So it’ll cost the same throughout the county and throughout the state.”

One of the obstacles the providers said they face is reaching the more rural areas, where there may only be a few residents.

There were also representatives from organizations such as the Marietta Community Foundation and Buckeye Hills Regional Council, who offered help.

Bret Allphin, development director for Buckeye Hills Regional Council, said townships can also get financial help with adding broadband services to their regions.

“Townships can apply for grants, but rarely do,” he said. “There is grant funding for broadband.”

It was noted that some of the cost of adding a tower for aerial lines is through purchasing property, but donation of the land could be used as matching money for the grants.

“Matching funds may cost $25,000,” Allphin said.

Heather Allender, president and CEO, and Mason Beuhring, communications and program services director of the Marietta Community Foundation, said they were there for information gathering, but they would be available to help with grant applications to lower the costs to provide broadband to areas.

In other commission news:

* Wright submitted an agreement to the commissioners for road improvements near Warren Local Schools. He said Warren Local received state funding for the work as part of their school building project.

The first request was to create a new township road on the south side of the school’s property. Warren Local will be responsible for obtaining all easements for the roadway.

Mary Avenue will require road widening and reconstruction, which will cost the district approximately $104,266. Warrior Drive will also be converted to a one-way street up to the first school entrance in order to eliminate the left turn movement from Ohio 339.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.


Dates to Remember

* Regular commission meeting, 9 a.m., Thursday, 1115 Gilman Ave.

* Monthly county home meeting, 8:30 a.m., March 10, county home

* Primary election on March 17

Source: Washington County Commission Clerk