Boyko previously told the Journal-News that applications for qualifications require prospective service providers to demonstrate that they have the technical expertise to handle the task that will have good upload and download speed and that their financial resources are “strong enough that they are ready to continue to provide these services.”
When the commissioners held working sessions in the summer of 2021 on requests to share their allocation of $74.4 million in federal ARPA funds, they heard from two groups about the dire need for countywide high-speed internet access.
Jessica Green, assistant city manager in Oxford, told them that during the height of the pandemic when students in the Tallawanda school district were forced to learn remotely, the city spent $16,000 buying 380 hotspots so they could. She said the problem is more widespread.
“I think this is a big issue of economic access and equality to education, employment, public health, job growth…” Green said. “Before COVID it was annoying, after COVID it was critical.”
One of the people asking for broadband was the former county manager and director of Butler’s Rural Cooperative Engineering, Charlie Young. He presented the commissioners with a $3.9 million proposal to provide high-speed internet to approximately 2,700 rural sites in Butler County, in partnership with Cincinnati Bell. They have since made another deal and do not need the commissioners’ money for their project.
Young previously told the Journal News that he sought to find out how much the county lacks adequate internet service using the Broadband Ohio website, which is no easy feat. His best guess is that only 55% of people have real, reliable, high-speed access.
Hanover Tip. Official Bruce Henry said he could not know for sure how many residents of the town did not have internet access, but had asked the town for help in this regard.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Henry said, “we’ve talked about it before here in town, hoping something like that happens.” “If it came the way it should be, I think the population would be well served, which is not the case now.”
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and appropriated $350 billion to help local governments cope with pain from the coronavirus pandemic. When the commissioners learned of the windfall, they invited governments and other entities to bid on projects, and applications totaled more than $200 million.
They gave their first tranche of funding totaling $52.4 million in July, putting money into a broadband project and giving a large sum — $20 million total — to educational endeavors, namely $15 million to Butler Tech for new advanced technology centers for aviation in Middletown and advanced manufacturing in Hamilton and $5 million for the University of Miami’s College @ Elm Workforce Center.
The second round of funding came in December, including $16.1 million for infrastructure projects in cities and towns, parks, a community center, and a nonprofit package.
This project is right near the top in terms of importance, because it was driven by education, so it will have a long-term impact,” Commissioner Don Dixon said.
“It will help anyone who uses it for research or school, a lot of schools are opening online classes, it opens up a whole new world for these kind of uses,” Dixon said. “I think it’s more of an educational tool than anything else. It’s going to help businesses too, but it was mainly driven from our point of view to help the educational side.”
Young was not involved in broadband but said he was glad the commissioners decided to fund it.
“While the COVID restrictions, the stay-at-home restrictions are kind of starting to get in our rearview mirror, the ability to do these things is still very desirable and very much in demand and would make a huge difference especially in rural areas of Butler,” Young said.