Residents in Washington County, Ohio Form Broadband Cooperative

Fed up with poor speeds and no service, a handful of residents in Washington County, Ohio have teamed up to form a broadband cooperative to pursue better connectivity for themselves and their neighbors. 

The Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative (SEOBC), created last May, is the result of work led by David Brown. “Electric cooperatives worked,” he said of the founding impulse. “Why can’t we do the same thing for broadband?”

After organizing, the first step the group took was to set up a speed test and map to both show how poorly connected many residents of Washington County are, and to plan for the future. That test is still ongoing, and the results are not terribly encouraging so far. Out of 4,662 run, almost 800 premises have no service (17%). Suddenlink and Charter are the only providers returning averages above the FCC’s threshold for basic broadband (25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second)), but together they represent just over 10% of those taking tests — though admittedly this is the result of sample bias, the map shows that outside of Marietta, Lovell, Beverly, Vincent, and the few other concentrated areas there are few providers returning adequate speeds. Subscribers to Frontier, Windstream, and ViaSat across the county see average connections of around 8/2 Mbps (Megabits per second). Those on HughesNet even worse off, at 3/2.5 Mbps.

Asa Boring, a Belpre Township trustee, told the Marietta Times

We have people in our area who have sort of Internet, but it’s kind of a hit and miss thing. But when you get a mile out of Little Hocking it’s over with, you just don’t get it . . . unless you sign up with Windstream and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Targeted Solutions

The cooperative sees a combination of fiber and fixed wireless as the solution for reaching residents in the future. For example, the group believes that with $250,000 it can cover 80% (493 households) of those in the north central part of the county (roughly where Adams Township sits) with four wireless towers and 25/3 Mbps service. “It’s not the end all be all solution,” Brown said. “but [wireless] will get people connected quickly.”

Once the mapping portion is done, GEO Partners LLC is contracted to provide the group with build-out options to pursue from there. SEOBC is running a crowdsource funding campaign in anticipation of future moves.

Bret Allphin, of Buckeye Hills Regional Council, lauded the project

Service providers across the country have received something like $80 billion in funding over the last 15-20 years. It’s difficult to tell where that money actually went and what it did. As Appalachia, we often settle for less . . . That’s been our narrative for decades, and we don’t want that to be the narrative in this story.

Follow the progress at the Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative’s website, and if you live in Washington County, take the speed test!