RIO GRANDE — Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted visited the campus of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College along with officials from Buckeye Rural Electric Co-op and area dignitaries to announce a $2.5 million Appalachian Regional Commission grant awarded to the co-op for the construction of fiber internet infrastructure across six of its southeast Ohio client counties.
According to information provided by the Ohio Development Services Agency, the initiative has been called the Southeast Ohio Broadband Backbone project and the grant will fund the installation of 169 miles of fiber to create a broadband networking infrastructure seeking to serve the underserved and not served of Athens, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs and Vinton counties.
The project aims to allow area internet service providers to utilize the infrastructure to bring high speed internet to rural homes and businesses.
Buckeye Rural will match the grant with $1.1 million as part of a $19.8 million distribution system construction project.
“This is big news because there is going to be broadband access for people who we were wondering if we’d ever be able to get it to them,” said Husted. “But thanks to this grant and the leadership of the Buckeye Rural Electric Co-op, we are now going to be able to extend broadband access to thousands of people who we haven’t before, which allows them to participate in the modern economy, the modern education system and even the modern healthcare system has ‘telehelp’ as part of our healthcare offerings in this state.”
“This is not about Netflix and YouTube videos,” continued Husted. “This is about the economic potential this region has once it has access to the same broadband services that many of our cities have.”
“This is unique in that many of the co-ops have been resistant to do this,” said Husted. “A lot of times it’s going to cost them money and it has the potential to impact them because they’re not internet service providers. (Buckeye Rural) is providing basically the infrastructure to put this fiber up in which internet service providers can tap into it.”
“Today has been very exciting,” said Buckeye Rural Electric Co-op Vice-President of Member Services Kent Eldridge. “Southeastern Ohio is going to have something great happening in the next few years and this is a good place to start… We are connecting the eastern half of our service territory with subsection of communications and we’re putting up 144 strand fiber and we just need a few (connections) for ourselves…The internet service providers in this region are more than happy and excited to jump on that fiber as well and provide internet to the homes. We’re going to be the one to supply the backbone to be able to do that.”
The co-op, Eldridge said, will benefit from electric substations being connected to fiber and allowing for better outage control.
“When it was first brought up for the grant opportunity, we had people internally who jumped on it and worked hard and to find we were finally awarded the grant, it was a pretty exciting day,” he continued.
The fiber infrastructure is estimated to potentially serve around 2,000 homes and 70 businesses.
JB-Nets and Intellawave are local internet service providers who have reportedly agreed to support the project and provide internet service to area clients. Buckeye Rural will maintain the fiber infrastructure.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is a federal partnership with Appalachian states that seeks to create economic and improved life quality opportunities for its partners.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.