Stivers leads digital roundtable
By Jeff Barron, Lancaster Eagle Gazette
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, was surprised to learn that about half of 1,000 people surveyed in Fairfield County do not have adequate internet service.
LOGAN - Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, was surprised to learn that about half of 1,000 people surveyed in Fairfield County do not have adequate internet service.
"I want to dig into that a little more and figure out is it too expensive for acceptance," he said. "Then go back to the county and say, 'What can we do to help Fairfield County even though Pickerington, Lancaster and Amanda all have access. What's the issue?"
Stivers made his comments Thursday after hosting a roundtable discussion at a Hocking College satellite location with regional public officials and those in private industry about the lack of broadband service in some rural areas.
Stivers said he now wants to form working groups with various local and federal officials to find out how to bridge the digital divide. He said some areas of Kentucky solved their problem in 11 months and said Ohio could do the same.
Fairfield County commissioner Dave Levacy said people may assume that everyone in the county is connected to the internet, but that is not true.
"I look at it from an economic development standpoint," he said. "I think if we're not connected, then we're underserving the area of Fairfield County. So I'd like to see some major improvements in the future."
But those improvements will cost money. So Ron Mellon of the United States Department of Agriculture explained several loan and grant programs municipalities can seek to improve broadband access.
The discussion at times focused on how the lack of broadband can hinder education in rural communities. Hocking College President Betty Young said the school sometimes has connectivity issues from its main Nelsonville campus to its satellite locations.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," Young said. "That's just not acceptable."
But supplying internet service is not enough if people don't have access to computers to use them, OARnet chief research officer Dennis Walsh said.
"If it's not adoptable, what good is it?" he said. "It would be good if libraries, colleges and schools would make their computers available to the community. You're isolated without internet service."
Attorney Nicholas Degani was representing the Federal Communications Commission. He said the FCC must share some of the blame because it knew of the issue 10 years ago and did nothing about it.
"I'm sorry," he said. "We were not giving big companies money to build in rural areas. Then in 2011 we realized we needed to fix this, but we didn't."
However, he said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's top priority is to solve the problem.