Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Nov. 13 newspaper on Page A1.

RIO GRANDE — Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative (BREC) has been awarded a $2.5 million grant under the 2019 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative for the installation of 168 miles of fiber from its corporate office in Patriot.

Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted joined officials from BREC, along with state and local leaders, at the University of Rio Grande to announce the launch of a broadband internet infrastructure project. A large crowd of people gathered in a lecture hall inside Rio Grande’s Bob Evans Farm Hall on Thursday, Nov. 7, to listen to the announcement.

“You can’t be a part of the modern economy and education system without access to high-speed internet,” said Husted, who serves as Director of InnovateOhio. “One of our challenge points has been in the area of broadband internet access, and it has been something that Governor DeWine and I have heard over the years.”

Husted stated that nearly one million people, 330,000 households in Ohio, lack access to high-speed internet. At the same time, he noted, there are some cities in Ohio becoming 5G cities.

“It’s creating a divide that needs to be addressed,” he said.

The project, according to BREC Vice President of Member Services Kent Eldridge, will connect the co-op’s substations located throughout six counties in the eastern portion of their service territory in southeastern Ohio.

The fiber infrastructure is estimated to potentially serve close to 2,000 homes and 70 businesses.

BREC will maintain the fiber infrastructure, while local internet service providers will provide internet service to clients.

The initiative will improve service reliability and security, and utilize available technologies among BREC’s substations, by providing a fiber infrastructure, or “backbone,” that will also allow for future broadband expansion by internet service providers (ISP).

These ISPs will provide a “last mile” service to connect homes and businesses to high-speed internet in the remote unserved and underserved areas of Gallia, Vinton, Meigs, Athens, Lawrence and Jackson Counties.

This announcement is one of 54 investments totaling $44.4 million via ARC’s POWER initiative, a congressionally funded opportunity targeting federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.

A portion of the ARC POWER Initiative funds was set aside to fund broadband deployment projects that enhance access to and the use of broadband services.

The Buckeye REC non-ARC share is expected to be $1,100,000, in contributed services, or in-kind contributions. Approximately 70 percent of the total project cost will be funded with grant money from the federal government.

Project construction is expected to take three years.

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