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Ohio Awards Cleveland $10M for Affordable Broadband

The grant will go to a local nonprofit that was selected last year as the city’s route to low-cost, citywide broadband. The organization aims to have every Cleveland household connected to fast Internet by mid-2025.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announcing a $10 million grant to Cleveland for broadband
Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday announced a $10 million state grant for Clevelands affordable broadband network.
Courtney Astolfi/TNS
Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday, Jan. 9, announced a $10 million state grant to help deliver affordable broadband to every home in the city of Cleveland.

DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted made the announcement at nonprofit internet provider DigitalC’s headquarters on Euclid Avenue, where they joined Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Council President Blaine Griffin to tout the state’s investment.

“Having access to the internet is absolutely vital today; [it’s] absolutely necessary for living and thriving in today’s world,” DeWine said.

The state money, which comes from a wing of the Ohio Department of Development known as BroadbandOhio, will go to DigitalC, a local nonprofit that Bibb and council selected last year as Cleveland’s route to low-cost, citywide broadband.

DigitalC promises to deliver at least 100 megabits per second for $18 a month. Every Cleveland household that’s interested should be able to sign up for DigitalC’s service once the rollout is complete.

On top of Cleveland’s broadband plan, the state has also provided money to a similar program serving Cuyahoga County. Once both are complete, DeWine said the “Cleveland metro area will have almost full internet coverage.”

“We know too many people in urban communities who lack basic connectivity,” DeWine said, noting the importance of internet access to connect to work, school and doctor appointments, among countless other services.

DigitalC will begin building out its infrastructure this month, CEO Joshua Edmonds said. He promised to complete the work within 18 months — by mid-2025 — at which point every Cleveland household is expected to be able to connect.

Edmonds framed his organization’s work as a matter of digital equity. He noted that in 2019, Cleveland was ranked the least-connected large city in the U.S.

“This is an organization that saw the pervasive digital redlining and said no, we’re going to stand up against that,” Edmonds said. “...We are a digital greenlining organization.”

The project is expected to cost $53 million, according to a state news release. With the newly announced state money, DigitalC will have access to over $60 million from outside sources to get the job done.

City leaders set aside $20 million from Cleveland half-a-billion allocation of American Rescue Plan Act money to help fund DigitalC’s citywide expansion. The nonprofit also received a $20 million award from the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation and the David and Inez Myers Foundation, plus $3 million from the federal government.

DigitalC won Cleveland’s broadband contract over competing proposals from AT&T, Spectrum and T-Mobile.

The nonprofit offers a “fixed wireless network” service that uses nodes on towers and tall buildings, which hook into an existing fiber optic network. The nodes send a signal to nearby customers, who then can access the internet wirelessly from their homes.

“It’s only affordable in price. What we are deploying is not discounted technology. We make it discounted because that’s the mission,” Edmonds said.

Cleveland’s money comes with strings attached for the largely untested nonprofit.

City Council members were initially hesitant to hand money over to DigitalC because it hasn’t provided broadband at significant scale since it started in 2015. Council was eventually persuaded to approve the spending last year after Utilities Committee Chair Brian Kazy tweaked the agreement to pay DigitalC only after it meets specified goals, rather than providing payment up front.

To receive annual payments from Cleveland, DigitalC must attract thousands of new subscribers each year and provide digital literacy training to thousands more. If it fails to hit those goals, DigitalC won’t be entitled to any payments.

The organization has gone through several leadership changes and a rebranding over time, but the organization is now helmed by Edmonds, who Bibb is confident can successfully deliver citywide broadband.

Edmonds is confident too. On Tuesday, he doubled down on his pledge that DigitalC will be able to deliver.

The buildout of DigitalC’s network is expected to happen in three six-month phases, with new areas of the city coming online over the course of the next year and a half. Maps displayed during Tuesday’s press conference show the following rollout schedule:

The first phase will cover a large swath of the city’s East Side. The second phase will round out much of the rest of the East Side and a large slice of the West Side. The final phase will encompass downtown and any remaining areas.


©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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