New partnership brings affordable internet to thousands in Tuscarawas County

DOVER, Ohio – So many of us live in a fast, well-connected world, with access to high-speed Internet whenever we want it, but for nearly a million Ohioans, high-speed Internet is a luxury, not a necessity.

JobsOhio hopes to change that through its Digital Access Ohio Initiative. According to their website, it’s a program “that builds, owns and operates new fiber-supported infrastructure and partners with local ISPs to not only close the digital divide, but also strengthen Ohio’s competitive advantage.”

The newest installment: Tuscarawas County.

On Monday, Ohio Lt. Gen. Jon Husted traveled to Dover to activate a broadband tower.

It is a tower visible from the event center at Breitenbach wine cellars. Dalton Bixler opened Breitenbach Winery about 50 years ago and has seen it grow.

“The first year I only made about 5,000 gallons, and now we make 120,000 gallons of wine a year,” Bixler said.

He said where he is located is near Amish Country and it is mainly a rural area.

“It’s kind of a mini paradise,” he said. “A quiet agricultural area.”

But he said looking at the new broadband tower just a mile from his property gives him hope for growth in the community.

“We are now connected to anywhere in the world,” he said.

Chris Abbuhl is a Tuscarawas County Commissioner. He said low-cost access to high-speed Internet is something he’s been trying to bring to the county for years.

“It’s really, really important for the next generation to be able to access,” he said.

He mentioned that the digital divide in the county’s rural areas became painfully apparent during the pandemic.

“We had school kids who would do their homework in a hotspot, either a church parking lot or a school parking lot, and their parents would drop them off. They had Chromebooks that were useless at home because there’s no access in rural areas so they can use their Chromebooks,” he said.

JobsOhio’s Digital Access Ohio was an opportunity for Abbuhl and other leaders to get the access the county needed. The state is building the infrastructure, which was part of the problem for rural areas like Dover in the past.

“We have a lot of hilly areas, so it’s not always easy to get direct access via cable, we have to do something wireless,” Abbuhl said. “A provider isn’t going to expand into rural areas if they can’t provide a return on investment, so that’s why we have public-private partnerships to come together to access them.”

The new broadband tower will provide affordable access to approximately 2,500 homes and about 125 businesses in places that either had no internet or extremely slow internet.

“There are so many applications that this can be used for that are vital, education, agriculture, business development, entrepreneurs, just a number of things, a quality of life,” he said.

Bixler said his internet has already increased in speed, but the real benefit to him is more people living, working and enjoying the rural area he calls home.

“Bring all that knowledge with you, start new businesses, start families here. It is good for the community. It’s good for everyone,” he said.

Abbuhl said this is just the beginning of bridging the digital divide for the county. He said county leaders are looking at how to use ARPA funds and find other grant money to connect the entire county.

“The cost of not doing it is much greater than what the cost of doing it is,” he said.

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