Butler County has chosen altafiber as the company to bring high speed internet to the rural reaches of the county, a $10 million infrastructure project that will be funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act money.
County Administrator Judi Boyko said they are still fine-tuning the contract with the telecommunications company but generally the deal provides high speed interest access to roughly a third of the county’s homes.
She said the plan is to run fiber throughout the county and bring a minimum of 50,000 single family units and 8,000 multiple dwelling units that don’t have service access to the internet. As for cost to customers, “they are willing to preserve a subscription rate proposal and seek to commit to better or comparable to what they serve in the greater Cincinnati region in terms of price subscriptions.”
There are around 157,000 households in Butler County and it is estimated about 45% are lacking adequate internet access, so the commissioners approved seeking proposals to rectify the situation. Boyko said they received three proposals.
The ARPA rules and regulations have mutated several times with the federal government broadening allowable uses of the $350 billion allocated to help local governments survive the pains of the pandemic. Broadband has always been one of the specifically allowed uses of the funds.
Boyko told the Journal-News previously the requests for qualifications required the potential providers to prove they have the technical expertise to handle the job that will have good upload and download speed and their financial wherewithal is “robust enough that they’ll be around to continue to provide these services.”
When the commissioners held work sessions in the summer of 2021 on requests to share their $74.4 million allotment of federal ARPA money, they heard from two groups about the dire need to get high speed internet access countywide.
Oxford Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene told them during the height of the pandemic when students in the Talawanda School District were forced into remote learning, the city spent $16,000 purchasing 380 hot spots so they could. She said the problem is much more pervasive.
“I believe this is a huge issue of economic and equity access to education, employment, public health and job growth...,” Greene said. “Before COVID it was an annoyance, after COVID it was crucial.”
Former county administrator and Butler Rural Electric Cooperative engineering manager Charlie Young was one of the people asking for broadband. He gave the commissioners a $3.9 million proposal to bring high-speed internet to about 2,700 Butler County rural locations, in partnership with Cincinnati Bell . They have since sealed another deal and don’t need the commissioners’ money for their project.
Young told the Journal-News previously he has endeavored to discern how much of the county lacks adequate internet service using the Broadband Ohio website and it isn’t easy. His best guess is only about 55% of people have true, reliable, high-speed access.
Hanover Twp. Administrator Bruce Henry said he can’t know for sure how many township residents don’t have internet access, but they have had people ask the township for help in this regard.
“I think it’s a good idea, we had talked about that before here at the township, hoping something like that would happen,” Henry said. “If it comes off the way that it should, I think residents will be well served, that don’t have it right now.”
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. When the commissioners learned of the windfall, they invited other governments and entities to pitch projects, the requests totaled in excess of $200 million.
They awarded the first batch of funding totaling $52.4 million in July, allocating the money for the broadband project and giving a large amount — $20 million total — to educational endeavors, namely $15 million to Butler Tech for new advanced technology centers for aviation in Middletown and advanced manufacturing in Hamilton and $5 million for Miami University’s College@Elm workforce center.
The second round of funding came in December, including $16.1 million for city and township infrastructure projects, parks, a community center and a non-profits package.
Commissioner Don Dixon said this project is right near the top in terms of importance, because it was education driven so it will have a long lasting impact, “It ”.
“It’ll help out anybody who is using it for research or school, a lot of the schools are opening up classes online, it just opens up a whole new universe for those kind of uses,” Dixon said. “I think it’s an educational tool more than anything else. It’ll help business too, but it was mainly driven from our perspective to help the educational side.”
Young has not been involved in broadband but he said he is glad the commissioners decided to fund it.
“While the COVID restrictions, the stay-at-home restrictions have kind of begun to get into our rearview mirror, the ability to do those things is still highly desired, highly coveted and will make a tremendous difference particularly in the rural areas of Butler County,” Young said.