Task Force Works To Expand Internet Access in Appalachia

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A broadband task force met in Athens today to discuss ways to improve internet access in Appalachian Ohio. 

The Connect Appalachia Broadband Task Force is working to see over 90 percent broadband coverage in the Appalachian region.

The meeting, hosted by Ohio University, would not have been complete without internet access.

That is why those attending the task force meeting received a guest account to log into the university's wireless network, but the luxury afforded to meeting attendants is not so easily enjoyed by many others in the region.

"Ninety-seven percent of the households in Ohio has broadband access, which sounds terrific," says Stu Johnson, Executive Director of Connect Ohio. "However, the three percent that does not have access… 77 percent of those are in Appalachia."

Connect Ohio is a non-profit organization committed to bringing internet access to all Ohioans. 

Johnson says the reason for the low broadband coverage in Appalachia is the sparsity of the area's population. 

"In delivery of any type of services, whether you are delivering pizzas or internet devices, obviously there are efficiencies by the concentration of the population. It is a lot easier to service an apartment building with a hundred units than if those same hundred units are half a mile apart with a very rolling terrain. It makes it difficult," says Johnson. 

In some areas in Ohio, only half of the citizens have internet access. 

Johnson says it is difficult to get investment to expand the network infrastructure, which is why it is crucial to collaborate with providers, community members and the government. 

"Our goal is to bring Appalachia up to the median standards of the state in the national through Connect Ohio, which is within two years to have over 90 percent coverage," says Jason Wilson, Director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia. 

To achieve this goal, Wilson says the Governor's Office wants to work together with oil and gas companies. 

"They're going to use broadband," Wilson says. "We want to partner with them to allow us to branch off of their broadband connection into the homes and the communities that don't have it."

The Connect Appalachia Broadband Task Force is preparing to create a business model for potential broadband investors. 

It will be up to these investors if the goal – 90 percent broadband coverage in Appalachia – will be achieved.