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2,000 Low-Income Cleveland Homes to Receive High-Speed Internet

A variety of public-private partnerships will fund broadband expansion to East Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the nation. Households will get 4G service with 50 mbps download speeds for just $15 a month.

(TNS) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and other dignitaries visited the Cleveland suburb of East Cleveland on Wednesday to announce a public-private partnership that plans to extend affordable, high-speed internet to as many as 2,000 low-income households.

DeWine told several dozen people gathered in front of Mayfair Elementary School about the need for the $650,000 broadband expansion in East Cleveland, one of the poorest and least connected cities in the nation, and elsewhere in Ohio.

“The truth is that in the world we live in today, 2021, if you cannot access that you cannot fully participate in society today, economically, educationally and other ways,” DeWine said. “And so, one of our main goals, lieutenant governor and mine, is to make sure that we have, every day, more and more people who have that access.”

Wednesday’s announcement is significant as it signals yet another effort toward bridging the digital divide, which is an economic and education impediment in many areas of Greater Cleveland. Funding to connect households in East Cleveland comes from a variety of sources, including the state, Cuyahoga County, the Microsoft, Eaton Corp. and GE Lighting, which was purchased by Savant Systems in 2020.

University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University and the East Cleveland City Schools are providing access to buildings where the necessary infrastructure will be placed. Others involved in the project include the Urban League of Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

PCs for People, a Minnesota-based nonprofit with an office in Cleveland, is producing the hardware for the expansion, which includes antenna towers nearly 15 feet tall, along with the modems that each household will need to receive the wireless service.

The antennas provide the so-called “last mile” of infrastructure and will connect with the state-funded OARnet fiber backbone that extends into East Cleveland, said Bryan Mauk, who heads the PCs for People office in Cleveland.

Households will be charged $15 for the 4G service, which provides speeds of 50 megabits per second for download and 10 megabits per second for upload.

The technology will allow for “typical family consumption rates,” Tom Domzalski, director of data research & assessment with East Cleveland City Schools, said prior to the announcement.

The plan is to initially connect 1,000 households, but that the infrastructure will provide for up to 2,000 connections. Mauk said as many as 8,000 households in East Cleveland lack access to the internet.

When selecting those households to receive service, priority will be given to families with children in the public school system, Mauk said. The remaining slots can be reserved by residents who sign up at Residents can plug in their address to see if they are in an area served by the infrastructure.

PCS for People will serve as the internet service provider on the project, distributing the modems and billing customers. Mauk said the $15 per month charge will generate enough revenue to cover operating and maintenance costs, as well as for an eventual upgrade to 5G technology.

DeWine said the decision to work on a project in East Cleveland followed a conversation he had a year ago with State Sen. Kenny Yuko, a Democrat from Richmond Heights, and then East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King, who brought up the need for better broadband service.

The governor turned the project over to Husted, who said he initially reached out to for-profit internet providers to develop a solution. Husted told and The Plain Dealer after the announcement why those initial efforts didn’t work.

“This is economics and those are private companies that have investors, and as one of them explained to me, it costs X amount a mile for them to put fiber in the ground and every time they make that investment they need to get a certain return on that investment or they’re not going to do it,” Husted said. “And the bottom line is that the economics don’t work on a lot of these projects if you leave it completely to the private sector.”

Husted said the state has led similar broadband projects in other parts of the state but that the East Cleveland project is “the first real urban project using this strategy.”

Other organizations are taking steps to connect underserved neighborhoods with internet service, including DigitalC, a Cleveland nonprofit broadband provider that recently announced plans to extend broadband at $18 per month to 277 low-income households in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. So far, DigitalC has committed to hooking up 950 households in the city.

In February, for-profit Spectrum announced it was partnering with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to bring high-speed Internet to 19 of its properties.

Husted said piecemeal efforts to bridge the divide may be the only way to go given the vast differences across the state.

“Different technologies work better in different places, and different technologies need to be used to make the economics work,” Husted said, likening the state’s broadband expansion efforts to sewing a quilt.

Said, Mauk, “It’s really hard to come up with a silver bullet for this, right. If it was that easy, there would be one.”

DeWine told the crowd to expect more efforts by the state to extend broadband service to those who can’t afford it.

“The announcement that we’re making today has to do with one step,” he said. “. . . We’ll start with a thousand families, maybe 2,000 families. It’s not going to be everybody, but it’s going to be a start.”

(c)2021 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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