Port Authority continues with Wi-Fi plans

EAST LIVERPOOL – The Columbiana County Port Authority is following through with plans begun last fall to bring high-speed wireless Internet service to every corner of the county.

The Port Authority board voted at this week’s meeting to submit an application seeking a $100,000 planning grant from the state’s Local Government Innovation program to study the feasibility of making broadband Internet available throughout the county.

In September, the Port Authority hired the consulting firm of Ice Miller Whiteboard LLC for $5,000 to prepare and submit the grant application, with the Port Authority contributing $2,000, and the city of East Liverpool and the village of Wellsville contributing $1,500 each. If the study results are favorable, the Port Authority will seek a state loan to implement the plan.

Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake said while broadband is available through commercial providers, getting quality service to homes can sometimes be an issue given the rural nature of the county and its hilly terrain. He estimated half of the county lacks easy access to broadband service because of these impediments.

“You can get wireless (in towns) where you can connect to a big trunk cable. You don’t have big trunk cables out in the hillsides, so you have to run the cable to a tower and then you got to have enough towers to catch the relays and for people to put receivers in their homes,” he said.

The Port Authority tried this before in 2010, when it contracted with Omnicity, a company that specialized in bringing broadband services to rural areas and underserved towns. The project never got off the ground before Omnicity filed bankruptcy a year later.

Broadband in some form is already available in many rural areas in the county, either through phone landlines, cell phone “hot spots” or individual entrepreneurs who offer the service, although the quality and accessibility varies. Four years ago the state launched a federally funded initiative to bring broadband to Ohio’s Appalachian counties, which includes Columbiana County.

But Drake believes there are underserved areas, which the study would determine. The Port Authority’s plan would be to start in the southern part of the county and expand northward, which is why the Port Authority joined forces with East Liverpool and Wellsville. This would also help with efforts of the Port of Pittsburgh to make broadband available to barge vessels plying the Ohio River.

Also involved in the project are the Edutech Corridor, a group of 16 local schools, government agencies and businesses from the East Liverpool area, and Agile Network Builders LLC, a Canton telecommunication services company that is involved in the Appalachian broadband initiative.