County 1st Ohio ‘connected community’
DAVE MOSIER/independent editor
Van Wert County is on the leading edge in the adoption and usage of broadband Internet, at least for rural areas of the state, and that commitment has made it the first Ohio “connected community”.
The designation was made by Connect Ohio, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing computer and broadband Internet access and use, during a presentation held Wednesday in the Van Wert County Board of Commissioners’ meeting room.
Bart Winegar, Connect Ohio technical outreach manager, noted that, to earn the connected community designation, Van Wert County had to undergo a nationally-developed assessment that looks at three areas: adoption, access and use of broadband Internet services.
Access includes several components, including broadband availability, broadband Internet speeds, competition, access to middle mile fiber systems and mobile broadband availability.
Adoption components include digital literacy (county residents’ knowledge of computers), public computer centers, broadband awareness and the focus on vulnerable population.
Usage deals with four components: economic opportunity (economic development, business development, tourism and agriculture), education (K-12 education, higher education and libraries), healthcare and government, a category that includes public safety and energy and environment.
Van Wert County scored 101 out of a possible 120 points on the Connected Community assessment (a score of 100 is needed to be considered a connected community). Jeff Beebe, Connect Ohio state operations manager, noted, though, that several other rural communities have applied for connected community status, but didn’t get the necessary points to do so.
Some of the positives included a large number of locations providing free Internet services to the public, including Brumback Library, the County Council on Aging and the Veterans Service office in the basement of the Courthouse.
Connect Ohio representatives also noted the level of competition in Van Wert County, with 18 companies offering broadband Internet services to county residents — double the number doing so in 2007 — while they also pointed out the large number of local companies who have Internet websites.
County 9-1-1 Coordinator Kim Brandt, one of a team of local stakeholders involved in seeking the connected community designation, spoke briefly about the benefits of receiving the designation, as well as having high accessibility and usage of broadband Internet services.
In addition to making possible the implementation of a Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) system, the county’s broadband adoption also has a number of other benefits, including improved government services and lower costs, while competition could also lower costs for broadband Internet services in the future.
Brandt also spoke about the impact of broadband Internet service on economic development, noting that being the first Ohio connected community is a good marketing tool for the county, while having nearly universal access to broadband Internet is important to bringing in new businesses to the community.
“It will make Van Wert County more attractive to business,” she said of the county’s access to, and adoption of, broadband Internet services.
Being a connected community isn’t all just glory, though, since the county has three priority projects it needs to accomplish to maintain the designation.
Those projects include completing a planned middle mile and last-mile fiber optic cable loop to provide redundancies in broadband Internet services to local government agencies in the case of a disaster or Internet outage; hiring a county information technology manager; and implementing a countywide GIS system to provide enhanced Internet services to local residents and businesses.
County Commissioner Stan Owens said that, while the fiber loop project is now in the planning stages, it could be some time before the other two priority projects are completed.
Stu Johnson, Connect Ohio executive director, talked about the importance of broadband Internet adoption to the future of Ohioans, noting the high demand for such services among Ohio residents and businesses.
“We all know the demand is there,” Johnson said. “That is going to continue, but where is it going to be directed?”
Johnson said the demand will be directed to “communities that get it; communities that understand; communities that embrace it; communities who have done the work and go out and say ‘we’re here to play’.
“This report tells the rest of the world that Van Wert is ready to play,” he added.