City Of Fairlawn, Summit County Fight To Save Broadband Service From Senate Budget Amendment

 The city of Fairlawn touts its successful FairlawnGig municipal broadband utility on its welcome signs. Mayor William Roth says the service has attracted businesses and residents and increased home values.
The city of Fairlawn touts its successful FairlawnGig municipal broadband utility on its welcome signs. Mayor William Roth says the service has attracted businesses and residents and increased home values. [ Google Earth ]
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Summit County leaders are fighting a last-minute amendment inserted into the Senate version of the state budget they say threatens to handcuff efforts to improve broadband internet service.

The county has been working on leveraging the municipal broadband utility developed by the city of Fairlawn. It has lured businesses with its super-fast FairlawnGig, launched five years ago to address a need Mayor William Roth says kept coming up in economic development efforts.

"The Achilles heel always is the internet, because Ohio's internet in 2014 was ranked 48 out of 50 states as far as average internet speed," Roth said.

Though the city tried to work with private companies on an upgrade, "we were met with flat out just silence, refusals and one executive actually laughed in my face and said ‘good luck,'" Roth recalled.

Fairlawn forged ahead and Roth said at least five businesses have moved to the city because of the service. Hudson is working to offer a similar program and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro has been pursuing its expansion county-wide with a fiber network.

"From public safety, from education from economic development. It just makes good sense," Shapiro said.

But the state Senate amendment, submitted anonymously, includes restrictions on using federal dollars — which the county planned to do — to pay for broadband and would limit areas a municipal network could serve to "unserved areas" only.

Unserved areas are defined as having access only to arcane upload and download speeds, Roth said.

“If you look at that, that's going back to the 1990s to the old AOL dial-up days. So what they were doing is saying in one way, yes, municipal broadband can exist, but you can only serve areas that basically there's less than 1.7 percent of the areas of the state of Ohio that would meet that definition.”

The provisions are an overreach and will be subject to legal challenges if approved in the final state budget, Roth said.

Summit County Council passed a resolution Monday opposing the Senate amendment.

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